This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
07 Dec 1995: Botha, Louis
POM. Let me begin, Colonel, by saying that since we have spoken the last time a lot has happened in your life to say the very least. Perhaps we could start with you giving just a little précis of what has happened to you, to your life, to your career since we spoke the last time.
LB. All right, let's start like this, on 13th May 1995 I was arrested on allegations of being involved in murder or conspiracy to commit murder in Natal relating to an event that occurred in KwaMakutha in 1987. Since my arrest there have been arrests of various other people including the former Minister of Defence and several Generals and other people who allegedly were involved in the same issue of KwaMakutha. Now the case has been set down for trial for March next year, 4th March, and we were served with indictments on 1st December giving the whole charge or the allegations against us which is one of conspiracy to commit murder or alternatively murder. It goes without saying that I emphatically deny that I am involved in this and I am not just sitting back and saying this, I am not involved in this issue, not at all, period.
POM. In no manner, shape or form?
LB. No, negative. No, I am not involved. You see the basis of the charge, it would appear, would be that the military ran a secret operation and they consulted me according to the charge that I was the official liaison, which I emphatically also deny, to sweep the scene after the murder so that there would be no traces. That wasn't what my functions were over that period. I was in Natal, that is so, and I met with various of these officers over periods but then it must be seen in the context in which these meetings happened. As you are well aware I was in the Security Branch and intelligence was my field and we had to share intelligence. Intelligence is no good if you keep it for yourself, you have to give it to your other role players, the military being one, Department of Education & Training, Community Services, all the other departments were part of the group of people that had to get copies or get information as well. Now if one of those people then takes the information and goes and makes mischief with it don't blame me for that. So this is what I am saying. I don't want to pass any further comment but that is broadly, as far as I am concerned, what happened. But we will see in court. My rights as an individual were swept under the carpet because we were arrested, as I say, on 30th May and the Attorney General only got the docket 4½ months after my arrest and that whole period up to 1st December I had no real idea what I was arrested for. So what I am saying is, the present government has accused the previous government of sweeping human rights and things under the carpet and it appears that they are going the same way.
POM. Let me ask you this question, you are sitting in your office and other policemen walk in and arrest you. What is it like?
LB. It's traumatic to say the least, excuse the mirth, because there is nothing else one can do.
POM. Could you just describe the scene as it happened on that day?
LB. Well I was asked to go to General Bezuidenhout's office, he is the new Provincial Commissioner, and I went over and I found people from the Investigation Task Team there and I was then informed that they had a warrant for my arrest on allegations of conspiracy to commit murder and I was duly arrested. But I didn't go into fits and scream and shout because I knew that I was not involved and somewhere along the line this is going to come out, period.
POM. Were you handcuffed?
LB. No, no, no, for heaven's sake, no.
LB. At a later stage not then. I was then taken to Natal from there after consulting Counsel here plus a lawyer. I was then taken to Natal where I was then taken to court and released on bail.
POM. I remember you once telling me, when you said to me I can't talk about what was called Inkathagate at the time, you said, "But I have never, ever as a professional policeman done anything without the explicit orders of my superiors." That is a position you would adhere to today just as back then?
LB. Yes. But I want to make it very clear that I received no instruction from my superiors to commit murder or cover up the scene and I certainly did not participate there. But you see the whole charge here seems to centre around the statement of one or two guys who were actually involved on the ground and in their statements they admit that they were the ones that set the whole thing up and to give more colour to their doings they are trying to draw other people in and I have been drawn in. And if one goes to most of these trials going on at the moment in this country it always seems to be the guys who literally pulled the trigger who are pulling other people in and they are getting off scot free every time.
POM. So were you surprised when General Malan and the other high ranking officers in both the Defence Force and the former SAP were arrested and charged with the same crimes?
LB. For starters I am the only policeman that was charged, the others were all former military officers or serving military officers. I was rather surprised but surprised in this sense that I have got nothing to do with it so they can charge any amount of people but I am not involved, so we will see forward.
POM. So here you are, you're a highly respected policeman in Port Elizabeth, you are very active in community policing, you've gained the trust of the community and suddenly you're arrested and charged with this horrific crime that involved the murder of thirteen people including six children under the ages of ten years. What has it done to your life?
LB. Well it's led to my suspension from the date of arrest, but I have had terrific support from the community, which includes the ANC, the PAC, I've had some very good support from them. I still have. A lot of them don't believe it at all. I find that very heartening.
POM. Now when you are suspended, are you suspended with pay?
LB. With pay, yes. They take your allowances away in most of the cases, yes, but the pay is still there. I actually think it's - you know these trials take so long, or these cases take so long to come to court it's a very expensive way of going about things and I personally would think it would be better if people like myself and a lot of the policemen that are caught up in this type of suspension, not necessarily for murder but any case, that they then be employed in some administrative function at the office. It just makes financial sense. But I need the break so I'm enjoying the break.
POM. You're enjoying the break?
LB. Yes, I'm enjoying the break. I mean I'm certainly not stressed, here you can see I'm sitting. If I was involved I would be under stress, I would be under severe pressure, but I am quite confident.
POM. Now when you read the, was it the 32 pages, I had asked if you could you supply me with a copy of it, I don't know whether you ...?
LB. Yes I actually had it in my hand when I left the house, I was about to leave the house, the phone rang and I put it down next to the phone and I left it there so what I will do is I will arrange with you now ...
POM. Maybe we could just go by the house on our way out to Grahamstown because putting anything in the post here I don't trust things to arrive.
LB. Yes, not a problem.
POM. When you read the charges what sense did you get of the case that was being made against not just you individually but against more or less the top echelon of the Defence Department?
LB. You see I am going to be very wary of passing a comment as far as the military is concerned. I have got the docket and the contents of the docket but I am saying that I am not involved and I am keeping it there.
POM. Did, to your knowledge, such a thing as Operation Marion exist?
LB. No, negative. It's the first time I heard the name Operation Marion was now with this case, that's the first time. I've never heard of the name Operation Marion. This is the first time.
POM. So this whole idea of your being the official liaison between the SAP and Operation Marion is just a figment of the imagination?
LB. No, bull-dust, no ways. A figment of the imagination. You see one has to go back to what my function was at that stage. I was one of the people on the security branch that was responsible for attending all the JMC, Joint Military Committee, meetings, the JIC, Joint Intelligence Committee, all those committee meetings. Those were my functions and as such I had to share the information with everybody. Now if some other idiot goes and he then writes in his report, this is my official contact, that's his baby. Do you understand? I certainly was not appointed as an official liaison with Operation Marion. That I emphatically deny.
POM. So you attended no meetings at which there was discussion of Operation Marion, you knew nothing about the training of ...?
LB. One becomes aware at a much later stage, certain things became aware. When I say much later stage I am now talking of 1989, 1990, but we must now go back to 1987. It's easy to take hindsight and go back and be very clever but one must go back there negative.
POM. But perhaps if you put things just in the context of those days, you were trained in police intelligence. What is police intelligence as distinct from, say, military intelligence?
LB. I can't pass much comment on military intelligence because that's a different field, I am not quite sure what they are after, but as far as police intelligence was concerned, as far as our function was concerned, that was to gain or bring in information concerning activities of, for argument's sake, the ANC, PAC, the right wing at a later stage, that type of thing, anti-government.
POM. During those days when you were a watch-dog as a policeman collecting information and passing it on to the various agencies of government, did it ever strike you, were you imbued with the philosophy, was the philosophy of the police force that the ANC and the PAC and whatever were agents of communism and that part of the total onslaught?
LB. Yes they were, it is so. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind at that stage. A colleague of mine used to use the word the 'enemy'. I say I've got no enemy, I've just got criminals and one must go back in the context, anti-government, they were breaking certain laws so to me they weren't the enemy, they were the danger, the problem and we had to get information over them.
POM. Did it ever strike you at the time that the apartheid regime was an immoral regime and that people had the right perhaps to struggle against it?
LB. That's a political question. No I'm not going to try and float that one now.
POM. But it entered your mind in some way?
LB. Well there were certain things that the government of the day were doing at that stage that I did not agree with, that is so, but I certainly never saw them as an illegitimate regime, that type of thing. I certainly never saw the government as that.
POM. Did you think that the black people have legitimate grievances?
LB. Oh yes they did. They certainly had legitimate grievances in many areas. If one goes back to that time some of the things that were done to the blacks one can't blame them for doing what they did. But any system, any government, and the South African government was recognised, whether we're going to call them immoral or whatever, they were recognised, they will certainly take steps to defend themselves if attacked, if there is an attempt by it's own citizens or whatever to overthrow those that are sitting in parliament they will definitely take steps to prevent that.
POM. So did you see members of the UDF as an off-shoot of the ANC and the SACP or as a legitimate mass movement?
LB. A legitimate mass movement but there were elements within the old UDF that were ANC.
POM. That was a part of your duties to identify those people and to collect information on them and pass it on to the authorities?
LB. Yes, correct, yes.
POM. And that was the end of your responsibility?
LB. That's correct.
POM. So you were more like a collector of information rather than somebody who took decisions on what should be done with the information?
LB. Well you see part of our functions in the old JMC was to make proposals. Here is a problem, here is (maybe it doesn't quite answer your question), but here's a strike action pending for transport for argument's sake, we had to come up with a suggestion, a proposal how to circumvent that. I can still clearly remember at many meetings where prior to the meetings we were looking for people with heavy duty licenses so if the bus drivers went on strike that we had a back-up group of people we could then use to drive buses. So it was no good just identifying the problem you had to come with a solution as well. That was part of what was expected of you. Is that what you're after?
POM. So in the normal scheme of things what would be the hierarchy? Who would you receive orders from and to whom would you report?
LB. Well you would report to your immediate superior and from there it would go on to Pretoria.
POM. Has your immediate superior been implicated in these charges in any way?
LB. No, not at all, not that I know of.
POM. So it's just you in isolation as though you were working alone within the police services?
LB. I'm not with you now. You see with hindsight now one can say that Operation Marion wasn't anti-government, so I am not looking at Operation Marion people if you know what I mean, you're looking at something else and there were no decisions as far as I know, certainly not from my side, concerning Operation Marion because the word Operation Marion has only come out now.
POM. So besides your surprise you had the support of your colleagues?
POM. In your innocence, that you are not being shunned or other police officers are not saying, "Oh my God I wonder what's in store for me."
LB. No not at all, no, no. Well there's an unease amongst many policemen because a lot of people consider this part of a witch-hunt and there is an unease in the ranks of many policemen over this.
POM. Many people would say that Tim McNally, the Attorney General in KwaZulu/Natal, was an unlikely person to bring any kind of charges of this type since just weeks beforehand he had been accused by the ANC of not taking action against hit squads even though there was evidence to support charges.
LB. I'm aware of that, yes.
POM. And then suddenly he comes up with the mother of all indictments so to speak.
LB. All right. One must look at it in this sense. I feel actually sorry for the Attorney General. He was hauled before the - I think it's the Justice Committee where I think it's de Lange from the Justice Committee grilled him for over eight hours over all these issues and it was only after that that he prosecuted. I am saying as a result of that this is a political question. It would certainly appear like it. Never before has an Attorney General been rapped over the knuckles like that and he then charged us, so he can't lose. If anyone gets found guilty he can say, "I charged". If everyone gets found not guilty he will say you forced me to prosecute, so he is in a win/win.
POM. Now is it your defence that you simply had no part in Operation Marion, any of its off-branch activities?
LB. Hold on, one must be careful of how you word that because you can start spreading it very thin and then somewhere along the line one gets involved innocently almost in inverted commas, but I am saying I am not involved in the way that it is being put across. I certainly dealt with some of the figures, some of the military people that are on indictment, that is so, that I don't deny, but certainly not in the manner it was explained. That, no ways. The manner that the charge sheet is putting it out, that I sat down in cold blood and we discussed certain issues. No ways. But that we will discuss in court.
POM. So one of the key allegations against you is by this Major Opperman. Was he a colleague of yours?
LB. No, he was Military Intelligence. I say Military Intelligence, it's a loose term but he was from the Directorate of Covert Intelligence Gathering or something like that. I am not quite sure of the actual thing but he was, call it Military Intelligence.
POM. So as I recall just from my reading of a summary of the documents in the newspapers, there were three allegations: one that you were shown a list of people and asked to scan then and you said none of them were police informers.
LB. So I believe. I see that there, yes.
POM. That's a fabrication?
LB. That you will see in court.
POM. What does that mean?
LB. That you will see in court. I am not going to pass an comment on that.
POM. OK. Then the second one is that Major Opperman briefed you at the Malibu Hotel just shortly before the operation and asked you to ensure that there were no police patrols in the area and to then act as a sweeper after the operation itself.
LB. Those are allegations contained in the charge sheet yet.
POM. Well, did you meet with him at the hotel?
LB. That we'll talk about in court.
POM. Well, will it be possible to go down ...?
LB. I'm certainly not going to pass a comment on it now.
POM. What I'm saying is that it would be easy to establish whether or not you were registered at the Malibu Hotel or registered under an alibi.
LB. Yes, you can go and register yourself at any place at any stage and then claim you met twenty other people there. That's easy.
POM. Now I hear you saying two things, if you forgive me. On the one hand you are saying this whole thing came as a complete shock.
LB. Of course it came as a shock.
POM. And on the other hand you're saying in respect of some very specific alleged facts that rather than saying, "No I did not meet with you, that meeting did not take place", you're saying, "We'll see in court", which is a different kind of answer.
LB. No this is a different type of answer because ...
POM. Could you differentiate between the two for me?
LB. No I can't at this stage. These are issues which will be clarified in court. Events have been taken and twisted.
POM. So you're not saying that events didn't take place, you're saying that ...
LB. I'm merely saying that those things will be settled in court.
POM. In court, OK. So the third allegation of you being the sweeper?
LB. The same applies. Those issues will be dealt with in court.
POM. But you never visited the scene of that murder?
LB. That is another issue that will be dealt with in court.
POM. Is it possible that you did?
LB. That's another issue that will be dealt with in court.
POM. At this rate we're going I'll be through all my questions in about ten minutes. You must give me some - what I want to get is your story and I'm holding it until at least the year 2000 when this trial will be over for years.
LB. No, no, I accept that. The story will be, if you're going to wait for the year 2000 then you can hang on till March next year and hear the whole thing in court, you needn't hear it now.
POM. But hearing it now gives it a freshness.
LB. I am also very aware that you can step out from here now and go straight across to Major Opperman and say, look here's the whole story, or you can step straight across from here now and go across to Mr McNally and say here's the whole story, hence my reluctance to discuss it.
POM. What aspects of it do you feel comfortable in discussing?
LB. As we've discussed now I've got no problem but those specific issues I'm certainly not going to touch on.
POM. You said that you ...
LB. But I want to reiterate that I'm not involved in this issue.
POM. This issue? That means this murder charge?
POM. Were you involved in any way with something separate which would be the training of units at Caprivi?
LB. No, no, no. I was never involved in that training. But this is why I'm saying those are issues I don't want to discuss any further, but I was never involved in any of that training. O U T, out, it wasn't ...
POM. Did you ever know that ...?
LB. Let us leave that as it is now, the issue, because we're coming to - it's too specific and those are details which will definitely be clarified in court. Unfortunately it's going to take a long time because they say this case is going to drag for seven, eight, nine months.
POM. As long as the O J Simpson trial. It will probably cost as much too.
LB. That's possible.
POM. Is the state liable in the event of your innocence being established for the payment of your costs?
LB. For the payment, yes.
POM. So you could have the Counsel of your choice?
POM. And you are thoroughly pleased with the Counsel that you have?
LB. That I've engaged, yes. I've got no problem.
POM. Let me come back to that in a different way if I can and if I can't, I can't, I'm going to try anyway. You were in Police Intelligence so in the normal course of events through intelligence sources you would learn that training of a paramilitary organisation or IFP members was taking place?
LB. You see that is another issue which we will clarify in court. Their whole training, who was responsible for what. That we will clarify in court and I am certainly not going to pass any comment on that area because I am very aware that anything one says now could pitch up at the wrong time and queer one's pitch in a court so I have got to be cautious how I answer certain things. Once the case is finished then we can talk quite frankly about it but prior to the case I will certainly hold back on certain issues, not because that means that I am involved or I am guilty or anything or I've got something to hide, but it just goes over tactics and it just goes over - O J Simpson's lawyer certainly never discussed his whole defence down to nitty gritty prior to his case.
POM. Sometimes on television he almost did. What I'm getting at is I'm trying to distinguish between two things, so that is leaving aside the alleged crime, leaving that aside completely and just looking at the structure and balance of the forces in Natal at the time, you had the ANC claiming the turf of the IFP.
LB. You've still got that and vice versa.
POM. And you still have that going on. And you had the SAP and the SADF, so you have got four forces. Now in the normal course of events, it being what many people would have described as a war situation, you will have relationships between various elements involved in that situation. Were you aware of relationships between the IFP and the either SADF or the SAP?
LB. That's a very wide question and as far as I am concerned those are issues which will again be resolved in court. That's a very wide question and one which I'm not going to answer.
POM. Do you expect the issue of Inkathagate, as it was called, to resurface during the trial?
LB. It's possible. One doesn't know. You see if Inkathagate surfaces during the trial then it will only strengthen the perception that this is a political trial because Inkathagate had nothing to do with this type of allegation.
POM. During this period did you ever question any of the orders you were given by your superiors?
LB. Yes I always questioned orders to ensure that one understood them and that there was clarity over what was expected of you, but no superior officer or junior officer ever gave instructions to me to kill or take out anyone. That doesn't exist, not as far as I am concerned. Those orders may have been given to other members but certainly not to me.
POM. I want to get a sense of how you saw your own role as a professional policeman over that period. On the one hand you see yourself as engaged in a war against overt or covert communism so you are an instrument of the state in the fight against that. You also belong to a police force that was widely perceived throughout the world as being a very oppressive police force, a police force that was an instrument of terror and brutality. Did considerations like that ever come up in your mind? Were you proud to be a member of the SAP?
LB. Of course I was proud to be a member of the SAP. If one just stops there for a second, if one looks at the massive increase of crime and the almost lack of security, safety and security now in Jo'burg as it was five and ten years ago, there's a big difference and one certainly had to be proud of the record then as compared with the record now. All right there are various other factors involved in both periods but I've always been proud of being a policeman, yes.
POM. Do you think that the police force has been 'ruined' in the transformation process, that it has no longer got the standards of professionalism that it had before?
LB. In any transition, you must realise one thing, I was in the forefront of transition in the Eastern Cape. I supported transition. I make no secret thereof. It had a great appeal to me because there had to be something else and I had a rough time trying to get my colleagues to accept change. So, yes, I support transition altogether. But in any transition you are going to go through a period where it's very rough, where you won't be able to maintain the same high standards. Only a fool will think that that's possible. You can't maintain the same high standards. Again that's for various reasons your standards will drop and we are seeing the effect of it now. You see these are some of the other things which contribute to a higher crime rate now.
POM. So is there a lowering of the standard of police work in general? Let me put it this way, the image abroad, that's what I talk about, and even the first years I was here, was that the South African police force was one of the most efficient and effective police forces in the world and the same with the military that it was very efficient and effective and that the South African police force could smell an ANC infiltrator 1500 metres from Tanzania and pick him up. Today we're being painted the picture of a police force that is demoralised, that is under-equipped, that the pay is among the lowest.
LB. Stop just there for the under-equipped for a second. You see part of the problem again with transformation and the joining up or the integration of the various police forces is that there were nine other policing agencies that were under-equipped, Transkei being one of them, Ciskei being one of them, and now you've got to take some of what you've got and take it across there to try and lift them up so of course you're going to short-change your own people. So in that sense you have a problem, yes. So you will experience and it was something that we expected right from the word go and it was not something that came unaware but we tried to, how can you say, you're trying to prepare for it. Whether we were successful or not only time will tell. But it's still going to go for quite a while before this lot comes together.
POM. During this period while you were in police intelligence, you would go abroad, just abroad whether on vacation or conference or whatever?
LB. Which period is this now?
POM. This is during the 1980s. Would people ask you about South Africa?
LB. Yes quite often. I used to go to Germany and I used to run into this the whole time. People were vary inquisitive about what was going on in South Africa because there was massive anti-South African propaganda taking place all over the world, especially in Europe, and people were very inquisitive as to what was the situation here.
POM. When you say massive anti-South African propaganda, what do you mean specifically by that?
LB. Part of what you were saying earlier, that there was repression and that type of thing. Some of it was partly true, a lot of it was greatly exaggerated, that type of thing. Those perceptions which I could help alter I did and the best way of doing that is through supplying the correct information as it is on the ground, which was not necessarily supportive of the government at that stage either.
POM. Do you not find it in a way ironic that this monolith communism that you were fighting against, this total onslaught that General Malan used to talk about, more or less disappeared, not more or less, disappeared with the formation of a new government, that it all turned out to be in fact propaganda?
LB. Partly, but it must again be borne in mind that I actually supported the change, that I had no problem accepting it and propagating that the other members in the force must accept it. I had no problem with that at all. I think realism played a great role in changing shall we say the economic policy of the ANC because their policy is socialism, tends to be socialism, but the realism on the ground certainly had an effect on them and changed their views, yes. Because if one goes over their stances before the election or just after 1990 up to now there has been quite a swing in their economic policy.
POM. But the threat that General Malan so talked about and about which the country was so indoctrinated with, this threat of the total onslaught turned out in the long run to be mythological.
LB. I suppose one could attribute that partly to the collapse of the Russian empire as well. One mustn't look at things in isolation and you being a political scientist must be aware of that, that you can't look at events in isolation. The issue could have been completely different if Russia had maintained its old ideologies but there is no base to support the old ANC, if you know what I mean, and maybe that had an effect on changing their stance as well, I don't know.
POM. If specially in KwaZulu/Natal the ANC was the enemy.
LB. I never looked upon them as the enemy. That's too strong. That's a military terminology.
POM. As the what?
LB. You can call them baddies if you want to. They were the people that were trying to overthrow the legitimate government, not necessarily the enemy. I never looked upon them as the enemy. Certainly to be kept out, yes.
POM. There was a saying, not to use the word enemy again, but to use it, that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So since the IFP certainly saw the ANC as the enemy ...?
LB. A lot of people saw the ANC as the enemy. Oh yes, that is so. Some of my own colleagues I used to be at odds with over this thing of enemy.
POM. But would that not automatically make the IFP your friends?
LB. One must bear in mind that the IFP was part of the government's institution. They created them so you had to support them. That goes without saying. You don't have to necessarily agree with everything the IFP did in those days because we're talking of the eighties now not the nineties, we're talking of the eighties. They were a government institution, created by the government and therefore they had to receive your protection as well.
POM. Created by the South African government?
LB. By the South African government yes.
POM. Chief Buthelezi always claims credit for setting up the IFP.
LB. Oh I'm not talking of the IFP, I'm talking of KwaZulu now. No, Chief Buthelezi certainly created the IFP, that is so. I'm talking more in terms of KwaZulu. The IFP was the governing party there.
POM. So that made them come under the umbrella of the ...?
LB. The government of South Africa. Just the same way as Venda did and all the others.
POM. When you read through the indictment on the 1st December and read through whatever documentation is attached ...
LB. There is no documentation attached. It's just the indictment. Oh there is one document inside.
POM. There's no 32-page dossier?
LB. No, not there. No the indictment itself is about 45 pages if I recall. I didn't go and look at the numbers, I was just interested in certain issues.
POM. It's about a 45-page document?
POM. In there, according to the papers, there were 'documents' and I don't know because I haven't seen it, that quoted, first of all it says that Operation Marion was set up as a result of a request by Chief Buthelezi for protection against the UDF. Do you doubt that an Operation called Operation Marion was set up?
LB. I don't say I doubt that there was an Operation Marion but the first time I heard of the name Operation Marion was now. You see one must look at this Operation Marion or one must look at that request of Buthelezi and place it in proper perspective. The reason he placed it, I am assuming now, one has to because I have got no contact with him, I have certainly not discussed this with him at all, I'm just merely speculating now, if one goes back to the eighties in Sechaba, the African Communist fighting talk, Voice of the Women, those type of publications, and those publications of the ANC and South African Communist Party and MK, they declared war against the South African government, they said make the country ungovernable, etc., etc. they put the whole scene out there. And I am assuming now as a result of that Buthelezi, who had a self-governing territory with no army, then went to see Malan to create a paramilitary force for him. I am merely assuming this. But that is something that, either one of two things, either you'll have to wait for the trial or go and see Magnus Malan to get clarification on that because I am not sure.
POM. But it's not surprising.
LB. Oh I wouldn't be surprised at all.
POM. If an Operation Marion existed it wouldn't surprise you. That's kind of par for the course.
LB. No it wouldn't surprise me at all. It would be because it's obvious that Buthelezi would definitely look to the South African government because he was not independent, he did not have a military machine to look after his institutions, his schools, his clinics, that type of thing, and his own people, the Chiefs, that he would certainly approach the military for help. But that I must clearly state is merely my own view.
POM. But then again this indictment contained statements which at least the newspapers again said were backed up with documentation or at least with statements made in quotations or so, they were directly taken from statements. You had when General Malan wrote to the Minister of Constitutional Development, Chris Heunis, he omitted all reference to the paramilitary unit envisaged under Operation Marion. Would that surprise you, that he would do so?
LB. Again you're asking somebody who had nothing to do with Operation Marion to pass comments on whether they did it this way or that way. Why they did things like that I don't know. Would it surprise me? The military by its very nature always tends to not disclose all their cards on the table throughout the world, not just here.
POM. What I am saying, I suppose, is that many people I have spoken to have said these charges against General Malan and the other Generals involved, and I've talked to General Viljoen about this, simply can't be proved ever in a court of law, there's no way they would be involved in the plotting of the murder of thirteen people in an isolated hamlet in KwaZulu/Natal.
LB. That I agree with. I can't see that either.
POM. What do you see as the basis of the case that the Attorney General is trying to make?
LB. As soon as I've given you the charge sheet you can sit and read it by all means and read it and then try and understand it for yourself.
POM. There are statements in there, again, by Vice Admiral Putter and by other individuals.
LB. Not in the indictment.
POM. It says one of the documents ...
LB. Oh one of the documents, but certainly not the indictment.
POM. Sorry, within one of the documents Vice Admiral Andries Putter, Chief of Staff of Intelligence warned General Malan in October 1986 that, "Although points were being built in to protect those involved" (whatever that means, I don't know what it means) "this does not eliminate the possibility that the Chief of Staff of Intelligence and officers involved by virtue of their planning responsibility in Operation Marion may be charged with a capital crime". Does that kind of statement surprise you? You're a professional and here appears to be a statement from a high ranking security official talking about the possibility of himself and some of his subordinates being possibly subject to prosecution as criminals.
LB. I would say he's certainly covering his backside, if one can use an expression like that.
POM. Covering his backside in?
LB. If something went wrong with any of their planning and I'm not privy to their secrets. I don't know the rationale behind that.
POM. So you see all the statements, it said the Chief Director, Major General, one of the founders of the Freedom Front, Pieter Groenewald, "thought that the paramilitary action might be considered unconstitutional and that SADF members could expose themselves to criminal prosecution through their involvement".
LB. Those are legal questions which are going to be, I assume, debated during the trial. What was meant and whether they really exposed themselves to criminal activities or criminal charges I don't know. I don't want to comment on something in which the military is involved and in which I am not involved.
POM. But do you think that statements like that which appear to be at least statements that were made, God knows what the context was, do you think that statements like that give credence to the belief among large numbers of people that a third force did exist in the eighties and again into the nineties that was actively involved in destabilisation?
LB. I see what you're getting at.
POM. If you were a man in the street and you read this stuff what would you think?
LB. Very difficult to say, and it's not one which I'm going to touch for various reasons, the trial being ahead. Again it's one of those grey areas which I'm going to avoid replying in. But the people that would know what the answer is would be General Groenewald and Vice Admiral Putter, they certainly would know and no doubt they will explain that in court.
POM. But what I'm saying is if you were a civilian and read it in the newspaper and I'm saying, oh my God, General such-and-such said this and General such-and-such said that and it seems to be on record, would you not say what are these guys up to, at least?
LB. It's again one of those areas where I'm just going to pull my head back like a turtle and not answer, or like a tortoise.
POM. Can we put this in relationship to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission? First of all what do you think of the Commission as such?
LB. It's going to be a witch-hunt. It's obvious it's going to be a one-sided issue. Has any of this type of commission ever taken place since the 1900s in the world, I'm talking of the western world now? Do you know of any? I certainly don't. The only one I know of this type of thing was Breaker Morant and he was an Australian during the Boer War and I certainly don't know of any others. I think a lot of people are approaching this Truth & Reconciliation Committee with a bit of trepidation because it's bound to be one-sided and purely a witch-hunt. One can see that type of thing coming from a long, long way off. One can just leave that for a second, just draw back, go to the Shell House. The Shell House incident occurred more than 18 months ago and the statements are just trickling in now, so one just wonders about the justice in here.
POM. Do you expect to see indictments with regard to Shell House?
LB. I've got no idea. Indictments should have been drawn up a long time ago, not 18 months down the road. I see some of the top figures allegedly handed in statements in this last week and those statements should have been handed in 18 months ago. There's been certainly no great pressure, or there appears to have been no great pressure on certain of the people involved in Shell House, or appear to have been involved in Shell House, to make statements.
POM. One thing puzzles me, or a number of things puzzle me and I am sure a lot more puzzle you, is that you're not the first individual who has talked about McNally's grilling before the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and then moving from that, well he had to do something so he took this action, but he could have taken any number of actions. You don't suddenly indict the entire top brass in the military because you've been severely criticised by a parliamentary committee. This investigation, wherever it leads and whatever the outcome, has been in the works for a long, long time. It certainly preceded that. So what would be his motivation? I mean this is not a man who is regarded as being pro-ANC, he's not pro-government.
LB. McNally runs down the middle. This is my perception of him.
POM. So the fact that he would so something that would ...?
LB. All right, let's go back to the Treason Trial in the fifties, 1956/57 in which quite a lot of ANC people were prosecuted and that collapsed at the end and nobody was found guilty at all. Maybe something like that will happen here now. I don't know why he decided to prosecute. Only he will know himself, but whatever he does it's good. If he prosecutes and people get found guilty it's good and if they get found not guilty he can say, "I prosecuted".
POM. Do you feel that no matter what happens that in a way your life has been irredeemably changed, that the taint of guilt will always be there even if you're found innocent?
LB. Let's put it this way, a lot of people out there have already found us guilty. If you look at the terminology and the way people, certain elements, talk then you are guilty already, the mere fact that your name has been mentioned and that is part of the apprehension concerning the Truth & Reconciliation Committee. The minute your name gets mentioned you've had it. Whether you were ever involved, whether it can ever be proved or not is immaterial. The fact that your name has been mentioned, that's enough to find you guilty.
POM. As you search in your mind, as you must, and say why me, do you ever come up with any scenario that would at least rationalise to you why it was you who was picked upon?
LB. That's an issue that one will sort out in court and it's not one which I can answer now. I've speculated, that's obvious, but the answers we will seek in court and I am sure the answers will be there.
POM. What's your best speculation?
LB. Well my long term plan certainly does not include retiring in jail for the rest of my life. In other words I am positive I am going to be found not guilty, period.
POM. Do you think this trial - many people say what should be done is that those who have something to confess should go before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
LB. There is a story that one or two of the people involved could end up in front of, or will make formal application to go to the Truth & Reconciliation Committee. I hope not because that would drag out the proceedings and I am saying let's go to court and get this issue resolved as quickly as possible. What's going to happen? If one individual of the twenty accused decides he wants to go to the Truth & Reconciliation Committee it would appear that the legislation is such that if the judge decides he must go ahead, that the trial must now stop because you can't incriminate him in court, he must now go to the committee and then go and tell his version of the truth or whatever it is and in the interim the court proceedings must stop. I certainly hope it doesn't get to that stage. I hope that if there is somebody there that wants to go to the Truth & Reconciliation Committee he would rather come to court. Let's get this issue in court as quickly as possible and disposed of in court, because at the end of the day I'm still saying I'm not involved and I'm certainly not going to go the Truth & Reconciliation way. There is no way under this sun.
POM. There's nothing in your entire profession?
LB. No, no.
POM. [I am talking to Col. Louis Botha, continued from the A side of the tape, in Port Elizabeth on 7th December 1995.] I won't keep you too much longer. Do you see there being a rush of people to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, that this is going to create unease among many officers in the SAPS and the SADF, that they will look for the safe way out and look for indemnity?
LB. That pre-supposes that a lot of people were involved in mischievous things, this is in effect what you are saying. Only time will tell because there have been several trials in this country and one just thinks in terms of a lot of the evidence that has been given at trials already, maybe those people would have preferred to have gone to the Truth & Reconciliation Committee, I don't know. It's very difficult to pass comment on that one, very difficult.
POM. When you look at the de Kock trial, do you find it hard to believe that this operation was part of the police force of which you were so proud?
LB. Well if one looks at the trial thus far there have certainly been some startling allegations but nothing has actually been proven. We must wait till the judge comes up with a final judgement on this before one can really say what happened. It would appear that the media plays up certain negative aspects of the trial and that that's positive they play down. So it's very difficult to reach an objective assessment of what's going on. Again, it seems sitting here that there are a lot of allegations being made, but then by the same token a lot of the people that have made some of these allegations their credibility has been virtually destroyed in court. So that's what I'm saying, we can sit here and speculate over whether it was so or not but one will have to wait until the judge comes up with his final summing-up to see what actually happened.
POM. When you look to the next year, what kind of year do you see for yourself?
LB. Very interesting. We expect the case to be quite a while in court. Again, assuming that no-one goes to the Truth & Reconciliation Committee, the lawyers or Counsel have certainly indicated that they don't expect this to be finished before October, November, the end of next year. So you ask what my year is going to be like, it's going to be spent in court virtually.
POM. You will have to be in court every day, all twenty defendants will have to ...
LB. Every single day, whenever the court is sitting we all have to be there unless you are excused by the judge for a legitimate reason, sickness, desperate sickness or something like that.
POM. Has there been any contact between you and other defendants in the case?
LB. Very, very little. My contact with the military was now in court for the first time. I have very little contact with them but no doubt there will be contact, consultations taking place between us with the Counsels over the next two, three months.
POM. Can you say whether you worked professionally with a number of the military officers or was the military establishment and the Police Intelligence too ...?
LB. You say did I work professionally with them? Most of us met at various meetings and there were anti-crime operations launched, there were riots that you went into, not me physically now, so there was meeting of people the whole time.
POM. Involving these particular people?
LB. Well one doesn't expect to see General Geldenhuys, let's use him as an example, you won't come across General Geldenhuys unless you give senior personnel a briefing at a particular meeting, you won't see him in the field. Certainly not Admiral Putter either. Those aren't people that come down to ground level, so you would run into them if you're giving a briefing on a particular situation in any particular area. As far as Colonel Victor is concerned at Natal Command we often met each other but again it was on a level of attending the JMC meetings or the JIC meetings, Joint Information Council meetings, the Communication Committee meetings, those type of meetings.
POM. So not to belabour the point, again looking at the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, you say it's going to be a witch-hunt on one side.
LB. It appears to be headed that way, yes, but only time will tell whether this is a perception or whether it's a reality.
POM. Why is your perception that way since it's just come into being?
LB. No it's not just come into being. If one looks at the prosecutions that have taken place to date it's all been one-sided, former police or serving police, yet the former State President stopped the prosecution of many of the people who are sitting in parliament today over very serious offences. That has caused a problem and if one was to be even-handed you should continue with those prosecutions. So just taking that as an example it certainly is a one-sided event.
POM. My understanding, and maybe you can clarify this for me and maybe you can't, my understanding was that when the ANC was unbanned the government said that ANC members returning from exile would have to apply for indemnity and they supplied them with indemnity forms on which they were to list all the activities for which they sought indemnity and that they would be indemnified against those particular actions and if they didn't list something and it later emerged that they were involved in it then they could be prosecuted for it. And then my understanding is that the ANC membership abroad balked at doing this and said we're not going to list out everything and incriminate ourselves, and there was a period of negotiations and that what resulted was that they would give a blanket statement that they had been involved in political activities and there was no specificity. Is that correct?
LB. You see, again now I wasn't, or we, the public, weren't privy to all those decisions, but it would seem that there were two types of decisions, that what you now describe was the one then during negotiations either at the World Trade Centre or down in Cape Town there were X amount of senior ANC people who were needed at the negotiations and they were given a blanket indemnity. Everybody refers to the first crowd that had to specify everything but that wasn't applicable to the second lot. And for the negotiations to go ahead the government at that stage decided, let's give them blanket amnesty so that negotiations can go ahead, and it's those people I'm referring to, and a lot of those people are sitting in parliament today. There were definitely two types here but for convenience sake it's always the first one that's being held up, we confessed and wrote everything in black and white, which isn't quite correct.
POM. How do you occupy your time?
LB. I'm very busy. A colleague of mine was asked on Tuesday, he retired three months ago, another colleague said to him, "But what do you do with your time?" He said for the first month he was under stress and he didn't know what to do and he couldn't sleep. He said the second and the third month he is so busy he wonders how he had time to work. I'm serious and I'm in exactly the same position.
POM. How are your family taking it?
LB. Very well, very well, because you see I am quite confident about the trial. I would be lying if I didn't say that there was a slight unease but I am confident and you've met me on numerous occasions now and I'm positive that I certainly don't give the impression that I'm chewing my nails and I'm half under the influence, I'm taking a handful of pills to try and help me get over the day or get the day past. It's not like that at all.
POM. So when I see you next time, I will probably see you half way through the trial.
LB. Yes by all means.
POM. And then see you at the end of it.
LB. Again, the issues relating to those smaller points in the trial must be clearly understood that those are on manoeuvres which one doesn't discuss ahead. Those are points which one keeps back for the trial.
POM. But you can unequivocally say, so I just have it on my tape recorder: one, you never ...
LB. One has got to be very careful how you say that because as I say you can get pulled into something or scenarios can be created and you can be - let me give you an example. We're sitting here, six of us are sitting around here discussing events, it's a JIC meeting, let's say it's a JIC meeting, Joint Information Council meeting or committee meeting. We sit and we discuss. We discuss buses, there is a pending bus strike and I as the CIS officer say, right this is going to happen in this area, this bus company and the information is very clear, it's this particular trade union and it's Mr X in the trade union that is causing it and it goes over salary or it goes over overtime or whatever the issue is. Now sitting at this meeting there could be military intelligence offices, people from Manpower, people from the teaching profession, whatever and one of those people there then get up and they decide on their own to go and take out or kill or do some damage to Mr X from the trade union, does that make me now part and parcel of the plot to kill him? Do you understand what I am trying to say? So this is why I'm saying, and I'm throwing that up and then I'm not saying any more over that. That's the type of scenario I'm saying one has to be very cautious of. This is why I will say in court we're going to sort this out.
POM. And do you expect not just yourself to be acquitted but you expect all the ...
LB. No, no, don't say that. That I don't say. They must talk for themselves. I can't talk on their behalf, really, I can't talk on their behalf.
LB. I hope for their sakes that they don't get convicted but one will have to see what the evidence is in front of court.
POM. OK. We'll leave it at that and I wish you well and I'll see you in the Spring, which is probably after the trial starts and then see you at the end of it and you can be totally expansive.
LB. Well then I will certainly make a statement and it will be quite interesting.
POM. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time.
POM. We were talking about the perception among the police.
LB. Not just the police, the members of the public as well.
POM. That the Truth & Reconciliation Commission will be very one-sided. What does a policeman look to as evidence of this?
LB. If one looks, again let's refer to the Shell House issue and to the investigations up to now. Money has come from abroad to investigate just the one aspect, 'hit squad activities' within the police. Large sums of money have been spent but investigations into activities by certain ANC members were stopped by the government, when I say the government, by the government of F W de Klerk in 1991,1992, 1993, in that period so that negotiations could continue. No attempt has been made to open or to pursue those investigations and I still find it strange that 18 months down the road where a large group of people were killed very little investigation has been done into the Shell House and even into the Bisho shooting down the road here. That's been re-opened now and that investigation has brought no person to court either. One must question why. So you see there are many issues which are indicating this is going to be one-sided. But, a colleague of mine said to me we should open these investigations and charge the people in parliament and I'm saying I'm not interested in charging the people in parliament, I just want to get this case of mine behind my back because it's not going to help me pulling down half the people in parliament. But the issue is it's open, those cases haven't been investigated and they are not being pursued, certainly not with a vigour or the attention that this is receiving.
POM. So you were saying half jokingly, am I going to take this material to the Truth Commission? You were saying that people are operating under all kinds of ruses trying to ...
LB. Yes trying to get people to talk on tape. A colleague of mine was approached the other day, one of the independent groups want to make a film on things that occurred over the period 1986 to 1990 in the Eastern Cape and he was involved, allegedly, in some of these activities and now he wants to make a film over this and he wants to interview him, but it's - do you understand, with the Truth & Reconciliation Committee just round the corner, if there is something isn't it better if the man goes to the Truth & Reconciliation Committee than try this type of stunt?
POM. Than to start making admissions on camera?
POM. Is this going to damage the whole process of the commission?
LB. I don't know whether it will damage it but it certainly won't help it. Now you can see when I say it would appear that it's going to be one-sided.
LB. It's very rare that the lady has got nothing to say.
PAT. I want to say how good you are. It must be a hard way to have to relax that you really do.
LB. Honestly, there's a normal discomfort with any interview but I'm not biting my nails.
POM. Well we'll have dinner when it's all over and celebrate.
LB. We certainly have not gone in the past, if I have arrested you when I was a member of this terrible Security Branch, and you've gone to a psychologist, we certainly haven't gone and subpoenaed the psychologist, not that I can recall. There may have been incidents but I certainly can't recall, certainly not in Durban, in Natal where we've got those records for court. It's one of those grey areas. Where's your confidentiality? I don't know.
POM. Wow. You can't trust the confidentiality of your psychiatrist?
LB. Well if you subpoena them I don't know.
POM. Under American law they are protected except if they threaten to kill somebody. I think if they say they are going to kill somebody the psychiatrist has to report it.
LB. Yes but if the psychiatrist says he didn't say that to me? You see it's something which will be resolved as we along.
PAT. Writers and journalists are certainly fully protected in the States, you can't subpoena their records.
LB. The one that you can definitely not subpoena is client/lawyer and I think that is rightly so and certainly with a psychiatrist and a psychologist too. Why should their records be pulled through court? I just find it interesting that you're not asking anything on the set-up, how things are looking outside at the moment, the comparison to what it was.
POM. OK, talk away.
LB. No, I'm just surprised.
POM. Just go. How would you compare the situation? Like taking again the whole question of crime.
LB. Well there has been a massive increase in crime, jeepers, but again one can attribute it to the transitional period we find yourselves in, the combining of the forces, the dropping of the standards, not because we have to drop standards but because people haven't got the training and haven't got the equipment, that type of thing.
POM. Yet there are no plans to increase the police budget in any substantial way?
LB. It's very difficult to say because at the present stage they are spending something like R400 million on uniforms and I would have thought that would have been the last priority, the first priority would be to give the vehicles and the manpower the training on the ground. So I don't know that.
POM. How is morale?
LB. In certain areas very poor. I have just got back from Natal and I find that a lot of policemen or certainly some of the policemen that I spoke to have indicated quite clearly that they have almost withdrawn into a shell because if allegations are made against them, allegations are made very quick, they get either suspended or they get pushed aside and that causes a problem for them so rather not get involved in the fighting of crime, which is actually very negative.
POM. Did many of your colleagues take early retirement?
LB. A lot of colleagues have gone on early retirement and it's ironic, I was taking early retirement before this broke out as well. I actually applied for early retirement before I was arrested. I was unaware of this, I had already decided I was going to go. Various reasons, but you've lost a lot of expertise and a lot of people in managerial positions and now you're putting people up there who were excellent investigators but not necessarily the managers which you need and that's where the problems lie.
POM. Is there a future, bluntly, if you're a white person is there a future for you in the SAP or the SANDF?
LB. People like to believe that there is a future. Whether it is going to be so or not is something that only time will tell.
POM. So in an ironic way are you financially better off because you're getting paid rather than just getting a pension?
LB. No I would rather take my pension and sit back and relax.
POM. Sure, that was more of a joke.
LB. No, accepted. I was just saying in the past you have been specifically asking about certain issues and now the whole focus is on the trial.
POM. Well that's I suppose normal in the sense that this is the most dramatic event in your life.
LB. That is no lie.
POM. With implications not just for you as an individual but for the whole apparatus of the state. If General Malan folds there is no reason to believe that other names won't start emerging.
LB. It's going to be interesting. Well there are people whose names have been mentioned like Minister Heunis because he definitely was involved at some level. I don't know at what level, but he hasn't been called as a witness and no doubt some of these people will be called as witnesses. Adriaan Vlok, no doubt he will be called as a witness as well, a witness either by the state or by the defence, one of the people. So it has a possibility of widening out.
POM. Is it a better country after 18 months, leaving aside your own predicament? Are things generally moving better than you would have anticipated?
LB. Well you see, again when you go through a transition one mustn't expect a tarmac road and for the next five, six years it's going to be bumpy. Here you have a whole group of people who through no fault of their own have never had the opportunity to participate in government and they're being put into government, so you're going to have what is commonly called a 'bum' decision all the way down the line and you're getting them today. You can see the way the crime is up with business, the crime is up in government. There has never been such fraud, large scale frauds in government. Here in Bisho they created, the government officials created schools, created a fictitious school, gave it a Principal, gave it a Vice-Principal, gave it teachers, gave it X amount of pupils and then claimed money for the school feeding scheme. That was all money that they were taking. They were getting away with this. So that type of thing you're going to get for quite a while because there are no controls or there are very poor controls.
POM. So would you say the level of fraud in government is higher now than it was during the National Party government?
LB. It's very difficult to say because even during the National Party government there was a lot of fraud but the difference being this, now that there's more money about. During the Nationalist Party period the funds that were being spent were funds that came from the taxpayer, here there are lots of funds coming from abroad, gifts, low interest rate money coming in, whereas again during the Nationalist Party area that was internal. So there is more money around, less control, more thieving I suppose.
POM. So there are again accusations of a gravy train. Do you think there is any larger or longer gravy train now than there was before?
LB. I think it's a larger gravy train now than it ever was before. If one only has to look, and I'm putting this one out, at the way that they've been battling to get back the car from Winnie Mandela, that whole thing, I can't ever imagine something like that having transpired in the old Nationalist Party government with the opposition being what it was then they would have certainly climbed down on top of the Nationalist Party and they would have been brought to book, but it's taken an awful long time to get these things caught up now.
POM. And where would you now place Mandela?
LB. I'm not worried about him. What comes after him? That's the big thing. Everybody looks at Mandela. What comes after him?
POM. If you had to look among the current crop? Anyone?
LB. Wouldn't even hazard a guess. A lot of people are looking ...
POM. Who do you think is the most competent of those that you have seen?
LB. Some of those people are pretty competent but then some of these crimes that we were talking earlier of, they are involved there so it's going to be interesting to see what's going to happen. Let's not name names now because now we're going on to dangerous ground. Just switch off there for a second.