About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

26 Sep 1997: Coetsee, Kobie

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM. You said in the beginning, you said when you look at the lost opportunities that are not appearing in the English newspapers but appear in the Afrikaans newspapers -

KC. Yes because it relates more to my experience and my viewpoints and my background. We will talk about that. I'll remember, I won't try and steer away from that. Let's talk about it. What we're going to do this morning is to spend half an hour to 45 minutes with the Institute. It's an institution that serves a very large number of people through paper clippings, through research. It's also a centre for documents.

PAT. I've heard about this. In fact I've been telling Padraig about it for several years and saying that when we came here it was appropriate to go there. I wanted to find out more about them because of just the nature but I'm also interested in, sometimes I think more interested than Padraig. not going to be able to publish at all and it could have a significance for other historians. Since 1989, the interviews are probably the more important piece of this than a lot of the clippings or other things that we've accumulated. I'm obviously interested in seeing whether or not they would be interested.

KC. They may be a depository for his accumulated material.

POM. When I finish, which will be - well this time next year I will be winding down because I have to have a manuscript in by the year 2000 and by the time I organise all the materials.

KC. You've pushed the date of publication forward because somewhere I've read that it's 1997?

POM. That's right. In fact it was Mr de Klerk - well two things happened. One, when I was interviewing Mr de Klerk first he said, "Why should I be talking to you now and things might appear in a book in 1997 or 1998, whenever your book comes out, that might embarrass me or my party when I'm leading my party - I will be leading my party into an election in 1999." I thought about it so I went back to my publisher and said - when I signed the contract first it was in 1991 so no-one had any idea what the future was going to be like so we picked 1997 as an arbitrary date, so I went back to them and said it makes a lot more sense to pick the election of 1999 as the cut-off period so you actually have ten years, the advent of De Klerk in 1989 to the exit of Mandela in 1999, five years before the transition and five years after the transition, a discreet period in time because the major players will all change after 1999 so why not concentrate on that? And they said fine, so I have to have a manuscript to them, I think, by August in the year, I hate to use the year, 2000. It makes me feel kind of funny to use the word 2000 but I will have at that point at least 10,000 hours of interview material and have it all transcribed. I have 8500 hours transcribed at the moment. I have Judy Drew who your office has talked to who does my scheduling, I will give everybody, among the things I will do is that at the end even though everybody should have received copies of their transcripts from year to year, I will give everybody a bound copy of their individual transcripts edited just for their own records, for their children and grandchildren so they will know what they were saying 1989: oh my God, did I say that? There have been some startling changes in what people said from one year to the next.

PAT. Well from one period to the next anyway.

KC. I suppose it's not necessarily a change of heart.

POM. I hope that I will be able to incorporate the reasons behind the changes and thinking. I remember one of the questions that I asked of everyone, and still do, in the early days was about the whole economic system. The National Party were adamant that they would never make any concessions, that there would have to be guarantees on the entrenchment of the rights of private property. Whereas on the ANC side it was very much there will be intervention and socialism would be the society they were aiming for. They pay so much attention to deficits and to GDP and the need to restrict government expenditure and free up their resources for private investment.

KC. Of course the partnership, the COSATU, Communist Party, ANC, make it possible for participants to -

POM. If you're kind of the intellectual guru of your party you almost have no option but to say that.

KC. Yes of course the clever ones in politics try and get the ANC so far advanced on the road of GEAR that by the time that Jeremy Cronin ... it will still be on the shelf.  But I think things will by and large be dictated by events in Europe.

POM. In Europe?

KC. Yes.

POM. In Europe more so than?

KC. Europe, central Europe, Russia. Apart from anything else I still read Frederick Forsyth. I've been to Russia, Moscow, St Petersburg myself and it all came to light, the role of the church, between genuine democracy and democracy. It's a fascinating country. If I had an opportunity to spend six months of my life doing a study of the Americans or the fact that in Russia to bring about the change they orchestrated - they ensured that the crops would fail so they got a hold over the Russian economy, it was as simple as that.

POM. Are they in credit for that?

KC. They're taking credit up to a point.

PAT. All part of Star Wars.

KC. Have you read ... by Frederick Forsyth? Get it.

PAT. So you think that a recent ... of pluralism is just that you really can't - ?

KC. It succeeds with these unified European, it's not succeeding in unifying all Europe, central Europe, including Russia. If they recover it will have to be on their own terms. They will create a world of their own and they will have to be fed and will have to be guaranteed by economies elsewhere in the world just as the American economy can't survive on its own. It's got to be supported elsewhere either through ...  So whichever way they go, if they recover, they move out stronger and they will start trying to carve out an area of influence in the economy. China's not just going to toe the line for either America or Japan. So whichever way you look at it it's possible that China could now be the guiding star for Russia and that would definitely encourage a more independent stance on the part of the African countries and probably South Africa. [If Mr Mandela goes the position is ... plan provided for ... to national standards ... bill of rights ... to the economy.] The education of Trevor Manuel, Liebenberg's involvement of Manuel ultimately is it paying? If you read Van Zyl Slabbert's book Comrades in Business, he makes two points there, rather too subtly perhaps, too much watered down, that what happened was really that the ANC accepted, they developed the new South Africa along the lines of the economy that was and the legal system that was.

POM. When you hear Mbeki talk about Africanisation and the African renaissance what do you hear, what bells go off in your head?

KC. I'm not going to side-step that one. I thought you would ask that one.

POM. I've got 110,000 questions.

KC. I'm an African and that speech is just people's speech.

POM. Have you ever worked out who wrote that speech?

KC. I think he himself to a large extent, or old man Mbeki, he got it from his father.

POM. So maybe, Mr Coetsee, you could begin with - but first of all I want to give you my ground rules. That is that you will get a copy of this tape, you will be able to go through it and any part of it that you don't want to be attributed to you or quoted on you have the right to do so. The only thing that you will not have the right over is changing of substance. Anything that I give you, you can use for whatever you want to write yourself, so if you're writing later on, your memoirs or whatever, you have the right to incorporate any material that we talk about or take from any material that we talk about today and include it in whatever you write. Is there anything that you would like to add to that?

KC. No that is fine. Some of the previous points that you have raised -

POM. So maybe just before we start tell me about the tree and where we're sitting. The wind blowing through the trees, what kind of tree?

KC. I hope there's no intrusion from the wind but apparently that's been taken up as a challenge now. Padraig, tell me, but with you stretching the period which you intend to cover with your book -

POM. I'm covering from 1989 through 1999 and with you I would like to, if I could quickly summarise what I'd like to talk about, there are some very specific questions and some general questions. One is what we began talking about which I mentioned, Cuito Cuanavale, and maybe your recollections of what went on there, people that I should talk to including the former head of the South African Air Force, what impact you thought that had. Two, a range of questions arising out of Patti Waldmeir's book where you were mentioned quite prominently on a number of occasions. Three, your recollections of key events that you were involved in. Four, your role in the negotiation process both prior to CODESA and after CODESA. Five, whether or not you think the National Party in the end could have gotten a better deal and what went wrong, if anything did go wrong, with its own negotiating process.

KC. Prior to the interim constitution or post interim constitution?

POM. Both.

KC. Because that's important I think.

POM. Yes, to make the distinction. I'll begin by - I'd mentioned to you that I wanted to start my book at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale where I was giving you that my thesis has been talked about by others where it was the question of air supremacy that for the first time bogged down the South African defence forces which up to that point had appeared to be invincible across the continent of Africa and this was because the Cubans had MIG 23s, the most sophisticated aeroplanes at that time, as good as the stuff that was made in the US, whereas South Africa because of the arms embargo had either the Impala, home manufactured, which hadn't a great deal of manoeuvrability, or the French Mirage, but with the Mirage because of the arms embargo you couldn't get replacement parts.

KC. The F3.

POM. And the distance between your ability to fly to Cuito was more limited and in the end you couldn't win the air war and therefore you couldn't win the ground war, and my thesis was that this had a psychological impact.

KC. Padraig, let me just give you the basis of my response. I did not prepare myself on this one so I may perhaps be less factual -

POM. We can correct that later.

KC. - than I would prefer to be. Having been Deputy Minister of Defence and having been interested in defence matters over a very long period and serving then on the State Security Council on issues of policy primarily, I am perhaps in a position to give you the mood, give you the rationale for decisions as I now suddenly remember them. I have a very compact military library myself and I would have preferred to check my facts. Subject to that -

POM. I will be talking to you again.

KC. But subject to that I would like to reserve that right. I don't think I will review or reverse my recollection of the mood and the rationale. At the time we appeared to be invincible, the G5 and the G6, especially G5 was making headway. The G6 was already then on the drawing board and some time earlier I myself fired the G5, when I was Deputy Minister a couple of years earlier, I fired the G5 myself and together with PW we gave the go ahead for the G6. The Stalin organ has been copied from the Angolan forces. We had captured models - it's a projectile, some 36 of these fired one after the other, and I recollect now that we could cover middle and long distance, middle ground and long distance targets from 35 kms down to the close ones with all virtually new inventions. So there was little question about our supremacy on the land. I recall that some time prior to the Angolan war period there was the question of where we're going to put our money, whether we're going to put our money in the Navy or the Air Force and why I'm rather fresh on this one, when I was Minister of Defence in 1989-93 one evening I was in the company of the Navy and we had a very thorough and long discussion on this question. But the choice was then made to invest in the Air Force rather than the Navy. The Navy then claim in 1993 but as I was aware -

POM. This is in 1993?

KC. They're claiming in 1993 in our questions, our discussions, but I was aware that there was this almost conflict between the interests of the Navy and the Air Force towards the close of the seventies and early eighties where our money is going to be because we didn't have enough funds to develop the Navy as well as the Air Force. But the decision was that it would go to the Air Force. So the Navy was claiming in 1993 that had they been enabled to develop the Navy substantially they would have been able to attack Angola from the sea, Luanda, and keep it, and they would have been able then to provide the supply lines via Angola, via Luanda and they would be able to start a two-pronged attack. So I was aware that this was going back to the early eighties. So what you're saying now is correct. The Air Force wasn't capable of giving the necessary protection to the supply lines. A very elongated line of attack wasn't supported, couldn't be supported by the aircraft.

POM. So you had to fly planes from?

KC. From Grootfontein.

POM. In Namibia.

KC. Grootfontein in Namibia, but then also from Oshakati, the airport close to Oshakati. That airport, it was never wise to have an airport so close to the border, you had to have some distance, and the nearest they could offer was Grootfontein and that gave us too great a distance, say, from Grootfontein and to strike or supply 20, 15 minutes into Angola, because they had to turn and come back, refuel, and this was too long. By contrast the Angolans succeeded, and you must just check the name, in building an airport much closer to our border which enabled them to fly across the border, make strikes and come back.

POM. That's not the Cuito Cuanavale airport?

KC. It could be Cuito Cuanavale but we'd better check which one was then built. These are the considerations that actually I give you now. So in effect the General, it was General Roberts, and he asked two very pertinent questions of Mr Botha and Mr Botha conveyed that to the Security Council.

POM. What were the questions?

KC. The questions were, "Sir, if we take Luanda what are we going to do with it?" And that's where the Navy comes in, the Navy said we would have been able to keep it.

POM. But for what purpose?

KC. Well to stabilise the country and to enable Jonas Savimbi to do his thing. But the Navy wasn't that developed. We'll have to come back to the United States as well in a minute. That was the first query, what are we going to do? And the second question he asked Mr Botha was, "Sir, how long do you want this war to last?" And he said, "But how long could it last?" He said, "Sir, that was the question I expected from you, that was the response I expected, how long could it last. Our fuel supply, factories and so forth will determine that, and at that time" - and this emerges in the book by

POM. You must write down the name of that book for me afterwards.

KC. We could only last for a very short time bearing in mind that our supply line wasn't from Grootfontein to Luanda but it was from South Africa, 1500, 1600 kms to Grootfontein alone and then another 1000 to 2000 if you wanted to control Cabinda as well. There was no point in controlling Luanda if you didn't control Cabinda.

POM. So at this point, just the basics because we'll come back to this later on, the MIG was superior.

KC. It was so pertinent to PW's decision that he came back and he said no, we will have to find ways of ending this war and reach a political solution. And I must credit the South African institutions at the time for converting a very difficult position into a very honourable one, and that showed Mr Botha's brinkmanship. He converted the political situation in our favour.

POM. Now you have known Mr Botha for decades and the way he's always been portrayed in the western media at least is as being very hard and the old crocodile, the man who would never give an inch, would stand down opposition, didn't like the opinion of internationalism, and yet this seems to be a decision he made that had momentous consequences. What was it in him, do you think, that led him to make that decision?

KC. I think it's something that will be appreciated in time to come in order to understand the role of PW Botha, his sense of reality, his sense of reality and the military reality. But then there's also international reality. For some time now he realised that he couldn't expect any assistance either in the physical or the moral sense from the United States whereas previously, some time earlier, he was led to believe that at the right moment the United States would take over the South African resistance to communism and the United States would take it further, they would empower Savimbi to fight a good cause further against communism or whatever, and then of course he became completely disillusioned when he got the message through Carter that he can't expect any further assistance from the United States. I can give you the reference to this and the reference to all this is probably also in PW Botha's own biography or Jannie Geldenhuys or whoever, but I will be able to give you the answer. But he became disillusioned in that he was led to believe that the United States, whether it was done so rightly or wrongly, but he was led to believe genuinely in a bona fide manner that the United States would take over the good cause. All this brought together brought him to the situation where he had to decide what do I do now. And that's why I say he showed tremendous brinkmanship because he extricated us from what could have been a dire military debacle, he converted that into an honourable political solution.

POM. Do you think that - is it Miss Jones? She was talking about when she went to Washington to the Library of Congress and looked at material there she found that a lot of bias towards the PAC and the ANC in terms of their documentation. Do you think that the United States, and I say this as an Irish person rather than a citizen, played a duplicitous role in the sense that on the one hand it was supporting South Africa in the cold war, that means PW's regime or all the regimes prior to that, in the fight about who would control southern African in the cold war, and on the other hand trying to play this magnanimous role in the fight against apartheid, that there was a duplicity in its own foreign policy? On the one hand it was imposing sanctions and on the other hand it was giving military support.

KC. Well I suppose if you had the power, if you command all the influence that the United States does, it's not duplicity, it's clever foreign policy. We've talked about this before. The United States pursued a policy of disentanglement in the Middle East, Far East and in Africa as an aftermath to Vietnam. But at the same time they pursued that policy in a sense of getting other people to do her job, to execute her policy. If she had succeeded in that, if she had been successful as a world policeman then she would have been expected to become involved in the Middle East and involved in the Far East and in South Africa. She had the sentiments at the time, the sentiments being at the time more towards any forces that opposed communists. So any causes on the grounds of forces empowering them, pursuit of policy of anti-communism would get her support, direct or indirect. But back to your point as far as Angola is concerned they pursued an open policy of support but then they got notice from Congress to stop that. They still continued with their support but indirectly by way of allowing us to purchase whatever armaments we wanted. Now we're talking about somewhat earlier, G5s. They wittingly allowed us to purchase some very important parts of the G5. They allowed us to smuggle it out and then prosecuted us afterwards. Do you call that duplicity? I suppose if you have the power then you are clever. So the United States allowed PW that kind of latitude in Angola, post-Angola, because they couldn't be there themselves and local politics or municipal politics ... They encouraged PW to pursue a policy of fighting the communists in southern Africa.

POM. So that while officially they were excoriating PW, with a blink of eye they were saying we will supply you with whatever you need to fight?

KC. If you let me - in support of the argument, you can check my facts, but when they withdrew from Taiwan they first saw to it that they all had a very viable armaments industry. When they disentangled themselves from Israel they saw to it that Israel almost had the atom bomb, not even to mention an armaments industry. I know, I was in Taiwan, I got it first hand. I was asked by PW Botha at the airport to come back for urgent business when I was on my way to Israel with the specific view, as a guest of the Mossad, to go and compare our armaments.

POM. Your armaments?

KC. Our joint armaments. So that was their policy. In other words let's call it rather a multi-level policy.

POM. When General Roberts posed these two questions to PW do you think that in the back of PW's mind might have been the analogy of Vietnam, of getting entrapped, bogged down, not being able to move?

KC. He almost welcomed him.

POM. He almost welcomed him?

KC. Yes. And that kind of argument was the order of the day.

POM. But you said it had a devastating effect on him.

KC. On PW?

POM. Yes.

KC. No, no. He almost gleefully conveyed this to the Security Council that here now is a viewpoint but it wasn't fresh, it wasn't a new discovery, it was there all the time but it had come at a very convenient point in time.

POM. Maybe I misunderstood you earlier when you said that the fact that South African defence forces had gotten bogged down, its ability for the first time had been not just questioned but that had a psychological effect and contributed towards his -you said it could perhaps have contributed towards his disappointment.

KC. You misunderstand me. The knowledge and the facts existed then already for some time so some of the questions he almost gleefully conveyed but this did not take away from his great disappointment. You understand me now? It did not take away from his disappointment.

POM. So it kind of created a schizoid - ?

KC. It afforded him an opportunity but it did not take away from his disappointment that we could not solve it politically.

POM. Politically or militarily?

KC. He was furious as far as the role of the United States was concerned and he would needle Pik all the time on that.

POM. Needle Pik about it?

KC. Yes, pick on Pik. He was disappointed, he felt tension about it and that remained but I say the question -

POM. He was disappointed he couldn't solve it militarily, but you said politically. Militarily, OK.

KC. Militarily. No, no, but then he sought - but that's why I say I admire him for his brinkmanship being then faced with these analogies. He didn't seek because it was there all the time. He has developed that option all the time, he's been developing all the time. He, for one, did not want SWAPO to be declared an illegal organisation.  That was a question he raised several times. Are you surprised?

POM. Of course.

KC. He will be appreciated as a very clever politician.

POM. Why did he not want SWAPO declared an illegal organisation? Couldn't he have undeclared them an illegal organisation himself? Didn't he have the power and the authority?

KC. He didn't want it.

POM. So he wanted them not declared - ?

KC. He wanted them to remain a viable option for the internal political situation.

POM. But at the same time he didn't exercise it?

KC. He exercised it but he did not want to declare them illegal because that would make more martyrs, to put it in his argument. He used his option, the time could come that we may need SWAPO and so forth and he didn't want to make the same mistake as his predecessors did with the ANC in South Africa. Of course you surely remember that SWAPO was singular in this respect, it was never declared an illegal organisation internally. You must remember that.

POM. So we deviated a little, I want to go back to the scenario of, and we can explore this later when I look up more things that my thesis can use that this was the first time that the invincible South African defence force, the best defence force in all of Africa, had gotten bogged down and realised that they couldn't win something, in fact that they were actually losing something.

KC. You must also remember I said that the propaganda machine succeeded in not acknowledging it at the time, which is amazing. That's why I also said to you I admired PW's brinkmanship because he immediately reversed the political situation. And I also said to you that the disappointment of all this could have contributed towards his health situation. But when he mentioned the questions it was almost gleefully meaning that he had a predicament and here comes a man who asked the right questions at the right time providing him with an escape route.

POM. You're saying two things that interest me just from a psychological point of view, that on the one hand he was disappointed and on the other hand he was almost relieved and that the two -

KC. Disappointed overall but relieved that now comes the Air Force General who asks the questions. He says we can't help you, it's not the army.

POM. Did it have any impact on his, like you said it might have had an impact on his -  did it have any impact on his own sense of invulnerability that he could always drive things through?

KC. He could be very humble. The image of invincibility, of a forceful person, wasn't always - he could be very humble. For instance before that shattering speech delivered in Durban where everyone was -

POM. The Rubicon speech?

KC. The Rubicon speech. Before then he was very humble. He fully realised what was going to happen. He held me, he clung almost to me on the staircase.

POM. Why did he - ?

KC. I know I'm telling you things now, but Patti Waldmeir's version is very close to correct, very close to correct, very close, and I'm not singling out any person as incorrect but you know what I'm saying.

POM. But it's a version.

KC. Her version is very close to being correct but you know what people do, when a version was given to the world which was not his speech, he said you want to pressurise me, that's not my speech, and he made a different speech and he said to cabinet, "Now if anyone differs from this speech" - but he realised then, already then, that the next day more and more that the world was serviced with a speech which was agreed to by cabinet and which he didn't write.

POM. Who wrote the speech that he didn't write?

KC. The committee. It was leaked as coming from Pik.

POM. So Pik was supposed to have written the hard-line speech?

KC. No, no. He had a contribution as Foreign Minister. No that part of the speech that would have impacted on the world wasn't written by Pik either, it was written by the committee. She just says the committee of - I'm not sure, but a political committee of Chris Heunis as chairman, Gerrit Viljoen, myself and then Pik to add Foreign Affairs or with Finance.

POM. This is the speech you wanted to give, you wanted him to give?

KC. We gave him a draft speech and it was leaked by Foreign Affairs, or rather certain elements in Foreign Affairs to foreign missions and Saatchi & Saatchi started to market the speech and PW's office was phoned to say, "Are you really going to deliver this speech?" Embassies phoned, "We just want to verify, are you going to deliver this speech?" What speech? Because Heunis had the appointment with him to hand him that speech.

POM. He hadn't seen the speech?

KC. No. By then they read to him from a speech and he was cross with Chris and with our committee. He didn't want to speak to us. He cancelled the appointment with Chris. He didn't want to speak with us. He said, "What are you doing? You're putting me in a race."

POM. You're giving me no option.

KC. No option.

POM. You've closed me in.

KC. But I'm not going to take that. So he more or less gathered then what the content of the speech was and then he wrote his own speech and then he called us together the next morning and said, "Circulate this, this is my speech, if anyone differs from me, this speech I'm going to deliver." Well that night we flew out to Durban, on the staircase there, as I say, he almost clung to me and said to me, my recollection is that, "People have in the past tried to destroy me, they have tried various ways in the past and now they're using the international world but I won't be part of this." But he realised that something was afoot, something was going to happen. What he didn't realise was that his non-delivery of the first draft which he had not agreed to, the non-delivery of that would have that impact. The next day they started to call up our credit and pushed Barend du Plessis to the front because he was already the minister there.

POM. It was then Reagan, yes. That was 1985.

KC. Somehow Barend came to the fore there, he was Deputy Minister. But then of course we were in trouble.

POM. What's fascinating to me, did he react because a speech had been written for him and somehow leaked and words put in his mouth that he didn't say, rather than the fact that he didn't disagree with the sentiment of the speech? If it had in fact been presented to him, if the right channels had been gone through -

KC. In the normal way he might have agreed because he had picked us each for our point of view. He had picked us by person for our point of view and being a very proud man and being the person that he is he could not accept that situation. It was rather not accepting the situation and not accepting the speech. You must remember that just shortly before then he delivered that speech at Upington, Adapt or Die.

POM. So this is his kind of, in Shakespearean terms, his tragic flaw?

KC. When he virtually clung to me, clung is the wrong word because he never really clung to any person, it would be wrong to say that but he held my arm. Can I say to you what he said? As a background to this I came very close to PW as chairman of the Defence Committee. Then when he became Prime Minister he retained the defence portfolio and made me the Deputy Minister of Defence. He retained for himself the Namibian war, Angolan war, otherwise he handed defence to me, defence and intelligence. He said to me, "We have always turned to each other in times of crisis, I feel tonight is such an occasion." He said something about the international mood being against him and he won't be subjugated, he won't bend. But he did realise the impact? If I would say today this and that, even if he did realise, even if he did realise what impact it would have he wouldn't have changed his speech. He might have followed another route, avoiding perhaps the impact of the speech but he wouldn't have accepted being pressurised into a speech which he didn't feel that he could deliver. Personally I believe that it was contrary to the cause that he had adopted, it was completely contrary to the cause he had adopted, namely of reforming South Africa in a disciplined manner.

POM. I want to take you from that point backwards since that would have happened, the Rubicon speech according to my recollection would have taken place in August 1985, and you visited Mandela in November, was it? Two months later?

KC. Yes, we can check on that.

POM. I want to go back. You know you are regarded by most commentators as being one of the prime movers in facilitating the dialogue between Mr Mandela and the government, opening a channel of communication. Two questions: the first one is, at what time in your life did you realise that kind of so-called 'the jig was up', that things couldn't go on?

KC. Things had to be changed in a different way. I actually came a long way, I suppose I came a long road. I don't think without my background in law practice I would have entertained the viewpoints that I did. I don't think so. And then also the very nature of the fact that without that, because all the build up, if I may now be personal I think it was already there.

POM. In the sense of?

KC. In the sense of my being exposed to first of all, put it this way, my love for justice. Justice, natural justice, a common law but also the substance of law, procedural law, I was just in love with it because it was so much part of my life. Then also I was exposed to the law in a liberal sense. I was articled to Jewish firm.  I became a partner there in the Jewish firm, went out on my own for some time and up to a point I had virtually the monopoly together with one or two others of criminal work pertaining to black people in Bloemfontein if not in the Free State, but definitely in Bloemfontein.

POM. So your practice was here, most of your clients were black people?

KC. Well at that time yes. Civil work mostly pertained to that. I had also a fair section of the whites.

POM. But were your black clients people who had been accused of violating apartheid law?

KC. Yes. Yes, I would say that they were also accused of contravening apartheid laws, primarily the influx control regulations and I can remember very clearly my whole spirit opposing the way people who had been charged were brought to trial and were sentenced to a fine only to be repeated a month or so later. We're talking now of petty apartheid. I had a large criminal practice for all kinds of offences. I did ask myself, how long can we go on with this? At the time I was very much involved with youth movements in the Free State and I remember very clearly that -

POM. That would be National Party?

KC. National Party, yes. We had an internal debate and we welcomed sometimes John Vorster, his pronouncements on external policies, moving towards Africa, moving outward, because we said we can't continue with a policy based on separate development as a policy.

POM. Now I want to ask you to do something very difficult and maybe they're synonymous and I would miss the point, is the difference between justice and morality. Did you see as you were -

KC. I've dealt now with the justice in the -

POM. Yes, you were defending people against -

KC. Yes, this is a fact, this is a fact that I started to ask myself, how I can continue with this, can we change this? And then Vorster emerged and there was this very clear guidance from him moving into Africa, we're from Africa and we are white Africans some people started to say and that was welcomed in our circles. So you have, shall we call, jurisprudence on the one hand, natural law, positive law, as applied and perhaps also statutory law as perhaps misapplied to a certain extent or to a large extent. On the other hand you have justice in the moral sense. That was something that was present all the time, the question about division of families and so forth.

POM. Now would you go home and talk to your wife?

KC. About this?

POM. This must have been an awful moral - here you are, you're four things, you're a member of the National Party, you're an aspiring political figure within the NP which is committed to a policy of apartheid and you were defending black people daily against petty apartheid.

KC. And you ask yourself, how can this continue? And you say no it can't.

POM. But did you ever say it's wrong? Did you ever go home and talk to your wife and say, Jesus I think something's wrong here?

KC. Let me tell you, let me not explain but tell you that you have this almost clash of values that you're faced with. On the one hand you have the aspirations of a normal human being, you have visions, you have rays of lucidity, you have an environment as they are. You ask yourself, do you just oppose or do you change? And the matter of fact is that I very soon came to realise that you can't change if you're not there. Secondly, you can't have an influence if you're not there. Thirdly, you are meaningless if you're not there. And there were many facets and issues and parts of justice which I wanted to change. So by the time, I want to take you through this period, by the time that I started preparing to go to parliament, which was 1968, I had then also already moved on to the Supreme Court, my Supreme Court work, and I was a senior member in one of the largest, if not the largest firm, about to become the largest firm in the Free State if not in the Afrikaans speaking world.

POM. Sorry, you said you could argue before the Supreme Court or you were a member of?

KC. No, no, of the Side Bar, of the Side Bar taking cases to the Supreme Court through an Advocate. But I was actually doing law for some time and I declined a position at university, preparing myself for politics. So when the opportunity came I went into politics but not with a devious mind that I am going there to change. First of all I had this love of justice and I wanted to apply that. Strangely enough I was also an officer in the defence force.

POM. You were an officer in the defence force? When I repeat something it means that I am not hearing well, OK.

KC. An officer in the defence force, up and coming, very swiftly, an officer in the defence force.

POM. I'm just telling you that when I repeat something it means that I've a hearing deficiency.

KC. That's where my knowledge comes from, the defence force. I went on several courses. I will have to talk to you about, perhaps not today, my exposure to the theory of the total onslaught and what goes with that. But be that as it may, as I moved into a position of a parliamentarian that may have influence, I say that very softly because people who say they are in a position of influence, most of the time it's not, it's all the things on where you're placed, where you find yourself at the time and your viewpoints, whether you are manipulated or whether you become a manipulator in a sense. Things turned out in such a way that John Vorster invited me to become the first full time chairman of the Security Committee. That was a committee that was to succeed the Le Grangé Service Commissions. I served on that commission and John Vorster selected me to become the first full time chair. My service on that commission exposed me to people like Beyers Naudé, the thinking of Steve Biko, Black Consciousness Movement.

POM. You met Biko?

KC. I'll tell you in a minute. Peter ... Taste of Power, which you must have read. You're looking at a man who was in authority on the pre-liberation ...  I didn't just serve there, I made it my business to become appointed to this. I came half way on the commission. We changed the profile of that Commission completely. Read our further reports, our reports on the Christian Institute or on the University Christian Movement, acknowledging the righteousness of aspirations which are not satisfied but are being suppressed. That would have never surfaced. All this added up.

POM. These are where? Where can I get these reports?

KC. You haven't come across it yet?

POM. No.

KC. Your education is not complete.

POM. I know it is not, that's why I'm here.

KC. I have copies but I can't part with them.

POM. OK. But photocopies?

KC. But you could find this if you have access to the university library, you could find it in the university library. Every university library has it virtually. Parliament would have it. It's the Le Grangé/Schlebusch Commission and the reports of the Christian Institute and the University Christian Movement. This was intended to demolish. Instead it exposed people like myself to their thinking and we became the enlightened ones, myself, Louis Nel.

POM. Did you meet Biko?

KC. No, Biko died before then.

POM. When Biko died what did you think? When it happened, the report was given out?

KC. Horrible. I couldn't believe it, didn't believe the report. Now when I became Minister of Justice one of the first things I did was to reopen the justice side to it, referred it again to the Attorney General with instruction to have all the evidence re-examined and report whether he can prosecute. This was debated. I was taken to task for daring to reopen it.

POM. By? The cabinet? The truth isn't going to appear until 2001 and we'll all be dead. Well I will be, you won't be.

KC. Both of us will still be around, let's be optimistic. In a sense I had by the early eighties already accepted that I had this position, it was a very powerful position. History will tell whether I have abused this position or whether I've used this position to bring about change. What did I do?

POM. Now what change did you think had to be brought about?

KC. Well it was on a very wide front. You realise that despite all the pronouncements of the ANC on women's rights, they haven't added one single full stop to what's already on the statute books. I brought all those changes already in the eighties. The one area from which my attention was diverted, put it that way, namely the position of women in the traditional sense which I was about to tackle. It's not been tackled by the ANC either. Women, children, children's abuse, sexual attacks, but then I always felt myself sidelined except where I was on a committee when it came to constitutional issues. There was the very, very intelligent Chris Heunis, Gerrit Viljoen lurking in the wings, other very clever people, everyone wanted, everyone knew things had to change. Everyone wanted it but didn't know how.

POM. This was in the early eighties?

KC. Yes,  but they didn't know how. So, Padraig, I'm not, put it this way, a Christian proclaiming it from the roofs. I believe that there is salvation in many religions. I believe salvation is on earth already in the mind and it has really got to do with freedom, freedom of mind, freedom of expression, but I'm not that clear myself, to myself. I steered clear from seeing Mr Mandela just for the sake of seeing him. I felt it had to be (the right time) and I was waiting for the opportunity to do it. Also how could I use that position as Minister of Correctional Services, Minister of Prisons and of Justice to do the things that I had an outline of what was to be done? We had to change the culture of South Africa. We had to swap the sword for the law, we had to swap the sword for the law and how were we to accomplish that? We couldn't accomplish this from the opposition, we couldn't accomplish this from an NGO or whatever, and no other party could accomplish this but the National Party and no other people could accomplish this but the people in power, and I was just there. So realising that there was one objective, and I have been very clear whenever I've spoken intimately on this, we had to swap the sword for the law.

POM. Did you talk to PW about that or how did you work as a politician?

KC. You must understand now there was a conflict there, or an apparent conflict. On the one hand I am a qualified or I was a qualified militarist and I don't think a bad one at all. On the other hand I believe in the law. When Magnus was Chief of the Defence Force I was Deputy Minister. We had a rift about this and it continued until the early nineties but this is another story.

POM. A rift?

KC. A rift between us on the question of the predominance of the law over everything else, but that's another story my friend, but it's very important, it's part of this. One night in Pretoria I could see the options and I could see the moves on the chess board, I could see it all very clearly and suddenly I realised and it was indicated to me towards the justice portfolio. I cried, why pick on me? That's the truth.

POM. That must have been the culmination of an incredible occurrence, that it had lasted so many years. One doesn't believe in blinding light but it's like the whole subconscious had worked itself out and come to one way is the right way.

KC. From then it was calculated, every move was calculated.

POM. When was that?

KC. I have it somewhere, but round about - after I had gone to see Mr Mandela and having met him, which was not the only factor, put it that way. My mind for a very long was made up that we had to swap the sword for justice. Justice had become the dominating factor in South African lives. Everyone could be subjected to the law. And on that I made many mistakes myself at my own university. At my university I lectured at one of our major lectures, which was widely published, that the bill of rights was not on our agenda, we don't need a bill of rights, our common law, our law procedure is in place, everything is in place. I had to swallow my words so I was then the person to instruct the Law Commission, which by the way I have built up to what it is today, I instructed the Law Commission to investigate the possibility of a bill of rights for South Africa and the role our courts must play in it. And I also added rights in respect of groups, group rights, the thing that we talked about earlier this morning, the albatross around our necks, to say that group rights would be translated into apartheid.

POM. That group rights wouldn't be?

KC. No but it would be in our - immediately people would say, and for some time we had perceived that type of thought. Afterwards they realised, having become exposed to the United Nations thinking and to what was happening in Europe, and people realised what our intentions were. That bill of rights that was published by the Law Commission is virtually our bill of rights.

POM. Do you know that in 1991 I took half of the Law Commission to the University of Massachusetts in Boston and took 15 people from Northern Ireland -

KC. I possibly authorised them.

POM. And had them debate the role of a bill of rights in a divided society?

KC. That must have escaped me. I was very close to it at the time but you must have come across the Law Commission.

POM. Oh yes.

KC. A person like Pierre Olivier ... to shed light on major thinkers like Pierre Olivier, Judge Corbett. They should be given the credit that they deserve. John ... who passed away too early, the influence he had. Time is too short really but I must reserve space and time with you to give credit to these people which they deserve. But that's it. I hope it's not the last time that I myself ... But from then onwards it was a rather calculated situation and I had the assistance and support of people like Pierre Olivier, the Executive Officer, who is now an Appeal Court Judge, of the Law Commission and others and the department, except that they were destined, they were managers of a complete new role. Prisons, and you will agree with me that normally prisons are an instrument of oppression, they could be, but the fact that Mr Mandela is not carrying a lot of grudges should be credited to the Prison Service at that time, the Commissioner, people who completely accepted the new direction, completely worked with and helped towards the change in atmosphere. Now has anything been revealed at the Truth Commission about the Prison Service? But they were within the first place in position to commit heinous things. Would you agree to that? They did not, my friend, they became one of the chief change agents, positive in South Africa. Just think about it. In other dispensations, other countries, mostly in the Prison Service people end up where they are really subjected to atrocious atrocities. Why isn't it there? I'm not telling you anything but I'm saying that I was fortunate in having people around me who spoke the same language, moving towards the goal of replacing this, swapping the swords for justice. At the same time I believe that in such a situation your defence force should in the final analysis be the support of justice. That was the situation that we have to arrive at.

POM. You said your wife's name, I'm sorry I'm awful on names?

KC. Ena.

POM. Ena. She's religious? Did she have any influence on the way you - did you discuss?

KC. No, no.

POM. We were talking about the religious motivation.

KC. It was more my sense of and for justice that guided me up to that point and brought it to the point of an inevitable conclusion but then the inevitable conclusion that this had to be done at the Department of Justice level and that's where I came in. That's why I said, why pick on me?

POM. You said that to who? The person above or below?

KC. Why pick on me?

POM. We were talking about your love of justice. When you talk about justice, if you were born into a society where all people were treated unequally, how did you from an early age equate your love of justice which is obnoxious in equality?

KC. You must assist me because I've had this thing with Patti Waldmeir, a similar experience with Patti, she said but how could you change overnight?

POM. Well it wasn't overnight. I understand that.

KC. Those were her words more or less.  She wrote on the role of Robben Island, she had a similar difficulty, how could I change overnight from one of the chief leaders of the apartheid era to one of its main demolition agents. That was not the way it happened and I will have to take a lot of trouble in removing such an impression. I did not enter politics with the preconceived idea of now demolishing apartheid. I did not approve, I objected thoroughly to its ugly application. By the mid seventies I was eagerly and keenly looking for a way out of this.

POM. On what grounds?

KC. A way out of just applying separation.

POM. Because it was wrong, unjust, didn't work?

KC. No, no, the fact is that primarily with me it was unjust, primarily because it put people against people, it flew in the face of the party. It didn't make sense even before the law but when you go out there you're not equal before the law made by parliament. It didn't make sense and we had to get out of this. I think this was between myself and many members were in opposition, I interpreted and they ran away.

POM. You mean members of your own party?

KC. No, no, members of the opposition in parliament.

POM. The DP?

KC. Yes. They ran away from parliament. For instance Van Zyl Slabbert and Boraine resigned from it whereas they should have stayed there and found a solution together with us. You understand? I believe it was wrong for anyone to divorce himself from any area of responsibility whether in opposition or otherwise because you are as guilty in your absence.

POM. Walking away.

KC. In your absence you are as guilty through omission as you are guilty through commission. So you have my philosophy. What shook me was that I realised it's in my hands because at that time Chris Heunis's formula for bringing black people into parliament or into the position of co-reigning, also sharing the country, was never - Chris Heunis was a man who came forward with formulations saying we are one undivided country and if you are a one undivided country all people should have the vote. Yes, yes. And step by step. Now PW pushed him to find the solution but constitutionally they couldn't push away the screen to look beyond and he was also plagued by his right wing in a sense but he discarded, he got rid of - FW eventually killing off Andries Treurnicht but it was PW who discarded.

POM. Sorry, FW did?

KC. He did the killing of Andries Treurnicht but PW discarded Andries and Hartzenberg. So what I'm saying to you is this, that we were all looking for a solution whether it be ground in justice, fairness, a practical situation, it couldn't work. Somewhere I just said that sanctions were exacting their toll against us so I was quite, seeing the light, as acknowledging that sanctions did the thing. It was a combination of all the facts.

POM. I want to go back to JP de Lange who issued a document when he was head of the Broederbond, issued a document called The Afrikaner's Guide to Safety, that was widely distributed. That was in 1983. Was that discussed, that report discussed in parliament? Were you aware of it?

KC. I was very much aware of it because I am a member of that organisation and I always saw that organisation as one of the most important change agents in Afrikaans speaking society. Some people may have used it in some forsaken areas as protecting their interests but that organisation was, as far as I was concerned and where I was present, one of the strongest change agents I was aware of.

POM. But he says, I've talked to him over the years -

KC. Yes, I'm just giving this as a background.

POM. But he said to me just recently that that report just practically made clear the inevitability of majority rule and that that was accepted by most organs of the 'Afrikaner establishment'. Would that be right or was there a bitter debate about it?

KC. No, there was no bitterness about it but it wasn't all that clear.

POM. It wasn't all that clear. OK I will get back to that.

KC. I would like to have the document in front of me. But it wasn't all that clear. I can't recall it as being such a focal point at the time.

POM. As he makes it out to be.

KC. But then, I want to add again, that - I hope you will give credit to this organisation as a change agent, perhaps too subtly at times, but definitely up front of the thinking process and that would apply to De Lange.

POM. This is one of the great ironies of the way perceived history is seen, that the Broederbond was supposed to be this secret society plotting to maintain white power for ever.

KC. On the contrary.

POM. Whereas it was moving in a different direction altogether.

KC. On the contrary, on the contrary. He had the support I remember -

POM. Somebody who studied history - that kind of irony?

KC. Of course I agree with you, that's the way history falls out for some people. But I would like to study the document and I will have to refresh my memory on that one but I can't recall that kind of statement being accorded to that document at that time. But at a stage the Broederbond was unquestionably becoming one of the major change agents. That is a fact.

POM. But your recollection is that the document, and I'll get it - I had a couple of extracts from it, could have implied but didn't make explicitly clear that at the end of the day there had to be a universal franchise and at the end of the day that meant black majority rule.

KC. Exactly, but I told you what was Chris Heunis's -

POM. Chris Heunis was saying this in?

KC. In the early eighties already and he met with De Lange and others quite often. You must also just check, I said to you that there were a number of factors, emerging factors during that time indicating to the need for change and you said to me, is it for the sake of justice or was it purely for the sake of surviving, whatever. And I said to you, no it was a combination of all factors. Now there were a number of thinking processes all indicative of the need to change and that it was adapt or die. PW didn't know how to adapt, he didn't have the answer and it was a bona fide lack of not knowing. What was a democracy was a catch phrase developed in the eighties. Most of us didn't understand, most of us were suspicious of that.

POM. I'm going to throw a funny question at you, or maybe it's not funny, maybe you know the answer because I don't know the answer. It struck me that Mandela and PW Botha kind of struck a bond of some sort where Mandela and De Klerk never struck a bond and why is it that maybe one could say under PW's regime both as Minister of Defence and Prime Minister and State President where some of the worst excesses of apartheid were committed and Mandela seems to say I forgive you, whereas with FW who tried to dismantle the whole thing and tried to take radical steps to change the situation, Mandela says almost I hate your guts. Not quite that, but you know what I mean?

KC. Well I can't give you the answer. What do you think is the answer to that? Clash of personality? What do you say? What is your analysis?

POM. I suppose my simple analysis would be Mandela sees in PW some mirror image of himself, tough, uncompromising, standing by principle, honest, straightforward, also can be master manipulator, a strong man. He likes strong men whereas ultimately he found De Klerk to be a weak person. And he also had respect for age so he would leave the old man out of it. I'm old, why haul him before the TRC when he's 81 years of age.

KC. Where's the logic in all this?

POM. There is no logic, that's the whole point.

KC. Frankly, I can only surmise. I don't know the answer to your question. All I can tell you is that I have observed all three of these individuals separately and in the two possible combinations, Mr Mandela and PW, Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela, very, very often. I think it's a matter of chemistry.

POM. What is chemistry?

KC. Chemistry? Chemistry I suppose is in their minds, in their hearts.

POM. The first day that Mr Mandela met with - I'm going back a long way, he was fitted out with a suit for the meeting with PW.

KC. That was not the first time I met with him.

POM. That wasn't the first time?

KC. No, no, I met him in the hospital the first time.

POM. No, that was you. I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about when (I'll get back to that) but when PW and Mandela met.

KC. Met in his office.

POM. And he was fitted out the day before and made sure that his -

KC. In July 1989.

POM. You were there and everybody just says it was a cordial meeting and they struck it off. What dynamic did you observe?

KC. Who said they struck it off?

POM. When Mandela walked into his office.

KC. Have you read any of my comments on this?

POM. No. Yours? No, no.

KC. The interesting thing is that although I gave a rather complete version to Patti Waldmeir on this, I believe that she is very much impressed by Niel Barnard, she preferred his version and whatever, the fact is that Mr Mandela and Mr Botha were both groomed by myself for that interview, not to overstep, not to be controversial.

POM. So you went to PW first? Let us backtrack because I should backtrack to what's going to be my first question which was: you were on the plane to Cape Town, Winnie Mandela was on the plane, Winnie comes up to you, you sit and you talk for a couple of hours and you decide to go to the hospital. Is that the way things happened? That's the way it was reported.

KC. I know, it's romanticised by Allister Sparks as well.

POM. OK I want to get that, that's what I want to get, the strain, OK.

KC. Although it's factual that she came up and she sat next to me but she did not talk about me going to see her husband because I got that and as I remarked at a couple of places this was the strangest thing ever that she did not discuss her husband. She talked about herself, her own role, about the youth, she defended her slogan 'Liberation before Education', justifying her encouragement of the youth not to attend school. A very impressive woman. By then I was already looking for some time for an opportunity to see Mr Mandela but in a completely different way and for that reason we decided to remove him and others from Robben Island. This was some time even before Mr Botha appointed a committee to assist me.

POM. So could you backtrack for me so I can get the sequence right? He's in Robben Island.

KC. Well he's in Robben Island. I get letters from him, messages through officers that he wants to speak with me. They clipped the letters on the files but there were definitely messages to the effect: Coetsee, all the other Ministers of Justice have been to Robben Island to speak with Mr Mandela and others, you haven't been there and you're already two years in office, almost 18 months.

POM. This is from Mandela?

KC. This was the atmosphere. I was then involved in several court cases, Robben Islanders against the Minister of Prisons, the Minister of Justice, for various reasons, overstepping against prisoners, depriving them of facilities, and we were losing court cases, losing on appeal and paying costs through our neck. When PW called me in to make me Minister of Justice and Prisons he said to me, you must now bring this to an end, I don't want to read in the newspapers again about Robben Island. Me, myself, I said to Patti, and that fitted with my frame of mind because I don't like losing court cases. I was not going to lose court cases. I called on Robben Island a think tank, on Robben Island itself. The people involved then were General Okker, he was to become Director of Prisons or Commissioner General, Mr Fanie van der Merwe who was then a Deputy Director General of Justice. I picked them. Barend was then Director General of National Intelligence for some year or two. I also had with me instructions from PW Botha to get Breytenbach, also Breytenbach out of jail. And I told this story to Patti Waldmeir and she said how unlikely it may seem she believes me, which I didn't like because those are the facts. She writes in the book that unlikely as it may seem how it all started, those are the facts.

. Well there I posed the problem, I said, listen we don't want any more court cases, Mr Botha wants Breytenbach out of jail but we are in a very difficult position because it's policy and it's in the regulations that political prisoners or rather security prisoners don't have any prison sentences reduced for any reason whatsoever, they must serve the full term and Breytenbach was to serve his nine years and he had hardly finished five. I pointed out to them, gentlemen if this is the case then what about the other people here as well? And we argued and we argued and we argued taking into consideration every facet. We would have change our policy, we would have to give them facilities and after they thought we said but if that is the case then we must prepare ourselves for the day that these people are released. And you can't just release them so we decided on a policy there of at the same time that we allow them all facilities we expose them to the maximum to the outside world, television, newspapers from all spectra. Those were our words. But we also said we must now create an opportunity that we talk to them on our ground, on our terms. I cannot put a decision that they be removed.

POM. That's their leadership. Sisulu, Kathrada, Mandela.

KC. Yes. Now Kathrada wasn't removed immediately, he followed a little while later allowing Mr Mbeki to go first. Now the film makers of A Long Walk to Freedom wanted to know from me, in the presence of Mr Kathrada, what prompted that kind of decision. I'm going to give it to you now.

POM. Good. That's something to publish in 2001.

KC. And in the presence of Mr Kathrada, he showed an interest in it of course, and I said it was a policy decision and one day we will probably and possibly elaborate on this. But at the time we saw a clear dividing line amongst them.

POM. Amongst the ANC?

KC. No, no, amongst the people in the leadership, the leaders there.

POM. Amongst the leadership?

KC. Yes.

POM. That's on Robben Island.

KC. Yes. First of all there were the communist card carriers.

POM. I suppose that would be Govan Mbeki.

KC. Govan Mbeki and Kathrada, that was the dividing line, not a dividing line, a category. Then there were -

POM. Was Raymond Mhlaba there too?

KC. He was there.

POM. If you put them in hierarchy who was, on the Communist Party side, the guru?

KC. The scientific thinker, Govan Mbeki. But the operator, Kathrada. That's how we interpreted it. So we had a profile on all of them. But there was also another, although it was not clear cut every way it was also clear to us that you had the elitists among them and you had the non-elitists and somehow we understood Mr Kathrada always questioning and opposing, always questioning and opposing and violently opposed towards any compromise. That's how we understood it.

POM. So on the other side you had the SACPs and Mandela and who else did you have on the other side?

KC. Mr Mandela, Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Motsoaledi.

POM. But Mhlaba would have been Communist Party.

KC. Yes, although he wasn't so active. But clearly identified to us were Kathrada and Govan. But that consideration in the course of our considerations on the Island slightly later evaporised, the question of who was communist and who was not. We developed further considerations which were already then in the air and we were not wrong. We had to think of a second line of leadership, influential leadership, and there we saw Thabo. The one way to single out the Mbeki clan not being of blue blood was -

POM. Not being of blue blood, or of being?

KC. Not being of blue blood.

POM. Not royalty in fact.

KC. Was to single them out and then when Mr Kathrada, being very difficult on Robben Island, he was also eventually invited to go to Pollsmoor leaving Mr Govan Mbeki who was already destined to be the first to be released from the Island. And our reading there was correct. And that is now the truth. It was a decision made by myself.

POM. So let me get this right, let me just go through it so I'm getting it correct. You had first of all recognised a division, a gap between Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, say just those two and maybe some others on the one side, and Mandela and Sisulu. You were saying they had these gaps, so you had Govan and Kathrada on one side, just take them as the two principals, and you had Mandela and Sisulu and the others, you take Mandela and Sisulu out, you move them to Pollsmoor, you leave Mbeki and Kathrada there, then Kathrada starts getting very difficult to deal with so you move him over to Pollsmoor and you leave Govan Mbeki on his own but you target him as being the first to release.

KC. Already when we were discussing the logical sequence or consequence of changing the policy we will have to release, I'll fill you in on this one, we will have to start releasing them, we can't stop with Breytenbach, because he's white. By then we were light years ahead of cabinet thinking. Do you realise that? I'll tell you in a minute. So he was released. You know Van der Merwe, Stoffel van der Merwe? He was then PW Botha's chief spokesperson. FW was waiting in the wings although he didn't realise it. PW Botha had given me the green light to release Mbeki with others to follow because it came about in PW Botha's time, there was nothing in FW de Klerk's time. It came about in PW Botha's time. So Stoffel van der Merwe -

POM. Who later became the General Secretary, right?

KC. Yes but prior to that he was Deputy Minister of Information. He came to cabinet and he had a very ambitious plan for the release of Mbeki which included a squadron of helicopters airlifting Mbeki from Robben Island with all the international media focusing in on the departure and on the landing, wherever, and with Stoffel then walking with Mbeki and asking him questions. PW said to him, "My dear colleague, it sounds as though we're going to release you." His plan went up in flames and at the end he was allowed to inform the media that he would be released and there would be a very brief appearance, a minute or so in Port Elizabeth at the Holiday Inn Hotel. So there was no helicopter airlift. I think there was a flight or whatever and, haven't you been told the story? Govan Mbeki appears in front of the microphone after all these years in prison and the first question someone asks him, "Mr Mbeki, are you still a communist?" He looked up and he said, "Yes." End of interview. It was almost the end of me. Surely it was the end of Stoffel van der Merwe and it was almost the end of me. All my plans squashed, PW said stop it.

. And now for the sake of the record I want to tell you, and on another occasion I will tell you about cabinet opposition after that against all these scheme that Kobie Coetsee was involved in. My wings had to be clipped. I heard utterings and mutterings of the tail wagging the dog and if you see the name of the colleague, the friend of mine who uttered those words and the Transvaal was then entering a by-election and they were screaming and crying out aloud that Kobie Coetsee was going to lose them their election. In the end I persuaded Mr Botha, he got persuaded as a matter of fact, that he couldn't stop it and we went on from that stage.

. On the question of the change of policy, which is perhaps the most important milepost so far, PW, and Patti Waldmeir is also rather sceptical in her book about this, and this is now the truth and I want you to confirm it -

POM. I will, I will go after the source.

KC. Yes but you must confirm it also with Van Zyl Slabbert.

POM. I have this number of questions on her book for you.

KC. For me?

POM. Yes.

KC. All right, now I'll take them.

POM. I think her book is a better book than Allister Sparks, in fact if you look at the two accounts and say -

KC. I would say that she did at least not romanticise but then again she has an historical ... it's Mac Maharaj amongst others and -

POM. That's right, she was in Lusaka for almost a year and met Mbeki and Mac Maharaj and Joe Slovo.

KC. Exactly.

POM. And sat around swimming pools with them.

KC. Exactly, exactly, so she had no problem. But on this issue what happened was I found myself in this damn predicament. On the one hand giving effect to his instructions to get rid of Breytenbach and I went to him and explained to him, listen you now arrive at Mr Mandela as well. He said you get rid of -

POM. This is PW?

KC. Yes. You get rid of Breytenbach, don't come and talk problems to me, you solve them, that kind of thing.

POM. Was it because he was an Afrikaner poet of such renown?

KC. No, his parents served on the Executive of the National Party in the Eastern Province, very close to PW but Colonel Jan Breytenbach, very much on the right wing now, was one of the soldiers very much admired by PW Botha fighting on the border. If you go to Namibia again just ask about this individual and they will tell you he is one of the outstanding heroes of that era. So PW Botha, he said get him out, you just get him out. And that's how we arrived at that Govan Mbeki and no matter how I would explain that and defend afterwards to PW Botha in his office that he is actually the prime mover behind this release because it started with him when he accepted that from this will now flow the rest although it fitted into the pattern of things for me. You understand? Both Slabbert and Helen (Suzman) were then already regular interlocuters for me in a sense of coming to me, talk to me about politics and Helen especially was a very strong protagonist for releasing Mr Mandela and saying that he is the last of the moderates. I will never forget her words, she said to me, "Kobie, you had better release him, he is the last of the moderates." And she was one person that went to visit him and came back and spoke to me and all she would give was, "Speak to the man. He's the last of the moderates." In the last couple of years I was then looking for an opportunity. That's why I say I was not prompted by Winnie as such because already then -

POM. You said she never even mentioned her husband at all?

KC. This is a very harsh judgement. She did mention her husband on a second occasion, very shortly afterwards when she visited me in my home, officially in Cape Town.

POM. Not when you were on the plane.

KC. Not on the plane. But I wouldn't like this to be held against her. She could have told me that she was going down to see her husband, and you're aware of that, that kind of thing, because I was aware of that.

POM. Yes but the implication given in Patti's book is that you had some kind of conversation that led you to - that's what I want to discount.

KC. This comes from Allister Sparks.

POM. That's what I want to discount.

KC. Also romanticising the fact that Piet, an Attorney of Brandfort, persuaded me to see Winnie and that it was pre-arranged for me to meet with her on the plane. That's what he's also intimated.

POM. What is his name?

KC. Piet de Waal.

POM. OK, yes.

KC. And we played tennis together, that's why he said the revolution started on the university campus. I should have shown you the courts where we played together, where allegedly the revolution started. As I say, it's a romantic point of view.

POM. Not simply - yes I heard that in fact from somebody from the Embassy in 1996 say it all began on a tennis court.

KC. But I can't say it's completely disclaimed that Piet had an influence on me taking up a point of view or adopting a point of view on Winnie which is rather more positive than the average point of view. He definitely did, he intervened on her behalf many a time and they became very close friends and I can't lodge any disclaimer on that one. But to say this caused it, that's how that happened. Now on the question of Van Zyl Slabbert and Helen coming to see me.

POM. Did they come to see you in - this is after, or generally - ?

KC. On several items on an agenda that was on the table from time to time between and amongst us, because when they came to see me again about the political prisoners, security prisoners as I called them, I said to them, listen I'm now going to change the policy, I have Mr PW Botha behind me and I'm taking it to cabinet on such and such a date and I'm going to announce it, you'll be interested to know that I will announce it in the Senate. I said to them I'm going to announce it in an extended committee session of my vote, Justice and Prisons vote, in the Senate, that there's going to be a change in policy and I stipulated the conditions which will lead to the release of Mr Mandela although I'm not going to announce that as such. But the first person to benefit from that would be Breytenbach on whose behalf Van Zyl Slabbert came to see me, and Helen on behalf of Mr Mandela. I then again contacted Van Zyl and I said to him there is one stipulation on the release of Breyten Breytenbach, you are not to be jubilant in the press, Mr Botha does not want embarrassment or whatever. He is going to be released to see his parents, can you help? So between him and Professor van der Merwe of Stellenbosch, who was then reviewing his poems mostly written in Afrikaans and assessing their value of literature, it came out with flying colours of course and was shortly afterwards published.

POM. So a poet began this whole thing.

KC. In a sense yes, you can argue that.

POM. Being a romantic Irishman I like to think that a poet was the pivot of the revolution for change.

KC. You can say that. Read Patti on that one as well. She almost makes fun of that but this is the truth. But you must understand, I used all this, putting it together, you understand that?

POM. Yes, yes.

KC. Helen there on behalf of Mr Mandela, him on behalf of Breytenbach, and bringing it together. And what I've always honoured him for is that having entrusted all this to me they sat there, they listened to me, they walked out, not a smile on their faces, knowing that this was the beginning. And you must get Hansard of my announcement there and you will see it was couched in a style which people say belongs to me, you couldn't read it there but it was there. You understand what I'm saying?

POM. This was on the release of Breytenbach.

KC. Yes but it was changing just the policy and the rest followed. People said it was a riot and the press wrote a few lines on it, they didn't realise what they were writing and I enjoyed that situation. I suppose another minister would have called a press conference and would have said to them, this is now the effect of the announcement that this and that is going to happen.

POM. No such projections?

KC. No, no. Then I would have had my influence, the little bit I then collected, curtailed. Be that as it may that started now with Breyten, that started with Breyten, so Breyten was released, he was in this country for more than a week in the company of Van Zyl and in the company of Professor van der Merwe, he visited his parents, he came back to Cape Town, was put on board an aeroplane and then either I made the announcement or PW, I'm not sure. But if you're now looking at the real beginning of events -

POM. That's a nice starting point. The militarist in me would say Cuito Cuanavale but the poet in me would say Breytenbach.

KC. Well that really started it and perhaps for the moment we should adjourn.

POM. When you were doing all this, how much opposition were you running into in cabinet or from colleagues?

KC. Put that damn thing off, let's go and ask them to open that very nice bar there and let's go in the bar for a while.

POM. OK, then we'll continue on. Do you mind if I come down again before I leave on the 16th?

KC. You leave again on the 16th?

POM. On the 16th October I'm going back to Boston.

KC. We'll just have to see how it all adds up. It's not that I don't want to but I'm very much involved with consolidating my farming interests and marketing bulls and so on and I'm going down to Cape Town next week.

POM. I'll be in Cape Town.

KC. Then I'll be in Pretoria on Saturday again. I'll be flying up to Pretoria either on the morning of the 30th or the evening of the 29th.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.