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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
29 Sep 1997: Botha, Pik
POM. The last time we were speaking of one of the disappointments of your career as Foreign Minister as being the collapse of the visit of the EPG and Obasanjo.
PB. They asked me a question on that which suits me, it's almost like a spot question which you prepared. That one is easy because I did the research already, and then the whole of the Seychelles incident where this attempt was made to stage a coup in Seychelles at the time. I can't remember when, somewhere in the eighties. Then all sorts of incidents of which I know absolutely nothing which occurred in Zimbabwe, it is mostly security related incidents. I think what I needed to explain to them is that State Security Council had no executive functions, none whatsoever. The Act that brought it into being categorically states that the Prime Minister, then later the President, is the chairperson and he can consult them and he can give advice on any threat, they can give advice to the government. That is the totality of their responsibilities, to give advice. So it is really a bit misleading to talk of decisions of the State Security Council if at most they can only give advice.
POM. So would the procedure be that you would, say, advise the State President and then would that advice in turn be conveyed to Cabinet?
PB. Naturally. All so-called decisions, I suppose if I appoint you to advise me on the building of a tennis court, you call together an Architect and a Landscape Architect and all sorts of blokes who are experts on what kind of top is should have, then you can come back and present it to me as your decision or your memorandum, but that's what it is. It has no status in law whatsoever until it is actually approved by the Cabinet and by the head of state because the head of state is the Cabinet, the Cabinet is the head of state under the old constitution.
POM. Do you think that is sufficiently understood or that there is so much written about the National Security Management System and it's inner workings - ?
PB. But all those things are merely structures like a state department. A state department has no executive power but it has an officer. The Department of the Interior has various offices throughout the country to issue passports but they can't change the passport, they can't design one in Cape Town and another one in Durban. I think this point is being missed by just about everyone. I wonder to what extent has anybody ever looked at the law that established the State Security Council. You don't find it in the old former constitution, you find a special law in 1972 which created it. It has two articles, one saying the State Security Council is hereby created, membership shall consist of the following, the Prime Minister, as he then was, as chairperson, the senior minister and then the Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Police and a number of others, and such others as the Prime Minister wishes to co-opt and they will at the request of the Prime Minister advise the government on any threat to the Republic of South Africa. That's it. I think that quite a number of people miss this one totally.
POM. So this whole idea that, if one follows the thrust of a line of questioning, it is that the State Security Council would meet and that it would receive briefings from senior members of the security forces.
PB. That happened, of course it happened.
POM. Who would advise as to certain threats to the public safety and there would be an implicit decision that perhaps the 'removal' of those people, making them less of a threat or whatever, might be advisable.
PB. If any of the recommendations required executive action it had to be taken to the Cabinet, endorsed by the Cabinet and had then to be implemented in terms of an existing law. You have a law on defence, you have a Police Act, you have a Defence Act, you have a Prisons Act, you have laws on all disciplines of life, ministers administer them. A minister has no power unless it is given to him in terms of a law of parliament and then he must act within the law which parliament passed and that's how it worked, you see. The State Security Council was not a law unto itself, it had no power to implement anything by law. It could make, in terms of the law that created it, recommendations, advice, that's what the Act said 'advice', and then in practice it meant that the Prime Minister of the day and later the State President took all the 'decisions' to the Cabinet, put it before the Cabinet, the Cabinet either endorsed it or amended it. Then at least it became Cabinet decisions but a Cabinet decision, again, in terms of the old constitution was meaningless unless it could be implemented, again, in terms of an existing law.
POM. So when you see people today like General van Rensburg or Kat Liebenberg or the former head of police, Van der Merwe, applying for amnesty or whatever, are you genuinely surprised by the revelations that are emerging?
PB. I was not surprised. I was shocked at a lot of the evidence that now came forward. It is absolutely shocking. I can't describe my feelings because I feel betrayed because they were also members of the Security Council. There was ample opportunity for them to report what they were doing, to tell us or to ask us and say if we do this would this be a correct interpretation of, say, a decision taken that a terrorist must be eliminated? That's a rather vague one but that is one that was taken from time to time, but in every speech in parliament most speakers got up and said terrorists must be eliminated. Just about every editor and every paper in this country wrote from time to time that terrorists must be rooted out and eliminated. Does it mean that the readers of that paper can now just pick a terrorist, according to him, and shoot him? I don't think so. If an appeal is made today that all murderers must be executed does that mean that you make the selection of who is a murderer and then execute him? This is a very deep question. There were two sides to the conflict, that we know by now, and atrocities obviously were committed by both sides and the burning question is responsibility; responsibility.
. I will accept responsibility for all the things that happened in my department. Yes, I believe, and I say this in a humble way, that I was in control of my department, I knew what was going on more or less in every mission of South Africa from Washington to Tokyo and I knew that when things went wrong it came out and was brought to my attention and steps were taken to rectify it. If members of the public were badly treated at any South African Embassy it came to my notice and I immediately took steps to investigate complaints. I was in control of my budget. I had a senior accountant and a Director General who was the Accounting Officer and we went for days through the budget every year and throughout the year to keep a check on the budget. I knew exactly where, I won't say every cent went, but certainly any amount that was worth mentioning I could tell you those went into salaries, that into hiring buildings, that into motor transport, that into transfer costs, that into entertainment and that into publications. Yes, so a minister who is in control of his department must be able to tell you what goes on in that department and whether that complies with the law. Not a single member of my department ever violated a single South African legal requirement.
POM. But wouldn't the same principle apply to a State President, that he must know what's going on in his government and that includes - ?
PB. Well obviously you can't ask one man to run how many departments, twenty or more departments. But that is for him to decide. I was not the State President and that's for him to decide whether the correct interpretation is given to decisions which are in effect his decisions. In terms of the convention in this country the Cabinet's decision was the Prime Minister's decision or the State President's decision and vice versa. The State President's decision was the Cabinet's decision. There was no voting and if a member or two members did not agree they knew what to do. That was the convention till 1994. You then go, I nearly went twice that way because of remarks I had made in public but that was not against the law of the country but rather it was politically not acceptable for me to say that there would be a black President and then a special Cabinet meeting was called and I was judged by my peers. We sat around a table and everyone had his say. Yes, these are the facts. People who write about our history must please keep this in mind. It is simply not true that the State Security Council, they might have met in confidence, that their decisions would be implemented without being endorsed by the Cabinet. It's simply not true and I think this point has been missed by just about everyone.
POM. That hasn't come out at the TRC.
PB. Much to my surprise, no.
POM. Is it a point that you intend to make?
PB. Well naturally because those are their questions to me. They are asking questions like whether I'm aware, will I be able to tell them whether the State Security Council took decisions that were illegal. What does that mean? It could only take decisions which advised the government, so then they must phrase their question differently. Did the government take decisions that were illegal? And that can only be answered in my opinion by individual ministers who administered the laws under which various operations took place. If they ask me in my department, the answer is no. No decision was ever taken by me or the Cabinet in my discipline which was illegal. Yes, I can answer that straight away.
POM. Let me frame the question this way. If, say, Steve Biko or a prisoner falls out of the 10th floor window of John Vorster Square and it happens five or six or seven or eight times around the country, just prisoners jumping out of prison cells and you have them committing suicide supposedly, or whatever. Would nobody in Cabinet ever say, is something wrong here?
PB. Of course.
POM. This just doesn't sound right.
PB. There is one I remember perfectly when Steve Biko's death was announced the then Minister of Justice and Police, Jimmy Kruger, said his death left him cold, or something like that. The Afrikaans translated would mean his death leaves me cold, I have no feeling. It was done at a National Party Congress here in Pretoria, Mr Vorster was still Prime Minister. I was on the platform and asked to see him and we stepped aside and I said to him, "Look, this remark can't go, it's terrible, it's going to cause us tremendous international damage. You can't just let it go by." He called Kruger, we met in a little ante chamber down the steps and he asked me to explain to Kruger. I explained and I said to him, "It's harsh, it's insensitive, it's bad", and he said to me, "But that's the way I feel, he was a terrorist." I said, "Look I'm very sorry, I'm not going to argue the merits or the points, I am not in a position, I am not a detective, I didn't see the man, I don't know him, I don't know what he stands for, I haven't got evidence, I'm not talking about that at all. I'm talking about your remark. The man died and irrespective of what he might have or not have done a minister of this country does not make such a remark. It's going to damage us internationally." I was a very young minister at that stage. Mr Vorster agreed and Kruger subsequently tried to explain his remark but never really apologised directly and it did exactly what I forecast, it did us a lot of harm all over the world, all over the world.
POM. But there were cases like this, of prisoners falling out of windows or slipping on bars of soap. Did ministers not say in Cabinet or even in reading the newspaper, say this doesn't happen in real life?
PB. Sure one would ask a colleague. Again from a foreign affairs point of view this was the kind of thing that eroded our position slowly but steadily across the world over years and whenever we made a little progress, say with the repeal of a law here and there which looked as if there was change coming and did receive a little bit of a flare up of good publicity, good publicity then for me was an editorial here and there that said they are still awful but this at least is a sign of a step in the right direction. That kind of thing was already good news to us in Foreign Affairs. And then when an event of that nature occurred invariably the answer was, the matter is sub judice, there is going to be a post mortem, can't you await the outcome of it or do you want to appoint yourself as the judicial officer or a medical officer, do you want to go and attend the post mortem. You are welcome to do so. There is a law governing these things and can't you just await the outcome of the investigation as is happening in Britain and France and Germany and elsewhere in the world.
POM. So in retrospect given the nature of the revelations and the level of people who have applied for amnesty or are applying for amnesty, what went wrong? What broke down?
PB. In the absence of facts I feel at a loss to give you a satisfactory answer. I am not in a position to get to the root of it, of really what happened there in many of these meetings of police and military officers where we were not present. I was not privy to that, I don't know what they said to each other. I don't know whether they had an agenda of their own. What I do know for sure is that I was certainly regarded as an obstructionist of the first level and so was my department. When I page now through all the clippings in my books you get editorial after editorial sometimes, particularly in the English language papers, The Star, Sunday Times, Cape Times, asking the question. They phrased a term 'securocrats', the Foreign Affairs boys are out and the securocrats are in charge. Of course that hurt but I am afraid there is truth in it.
. Looking back now with this kind of evidence I am tempted, but I have no evidence, I am tempted to believe that, yes, I and my department must have been a thorn in the flesh of most of them, always warning against overseas reaction, United Nations reaction, against sanctions and the effect of sanctions on this country's economy and therefore try and keep as much as possible away from them. You see the trouble we were in consisted of, as I say, an assault, this total onslaught business I never really believed in, but let's say the fronts on which we were fighting, that's a better term I think, was the Foreign Affairs one which consisted mainly of the image of the country, image, and warding off sanctions to avoid crippling the economy of this country. That was my department's function together with the Department of Commerce & Industries. They co-operated quite closely with us. We had very much the same interests. They wanted to keep trade going; we wanted to keep the image as good as it possibly could be to avoid further steps against us. Then there were the police dealing mostly with, say, the internal threat and then naturally your defence force dealing with what was considered to be the external threat. I really believe that a clearer distinction ought to be drawn between these three fronts and the roles of the departments and ministers in acting on these three fronts.
. If you ask me today, I look back, I pick it up now if I go through the old papers, the cuttings, The Pretoria News and other papers conducted an opinion poll in the early eighties that indicated that 80% of the voters would have voted for me as Prime Minister, as leader, while in the caucus I attracted no more than about 15% of the vote. I think that sums it up. That has stayed like that all the time. The caucus was not the reflection really of the public opinion out there, not at all, but the caucus unfortunately produced the leadership. In other words the leadership was responsible to the caucus and when elections came we all jumped in and battled and had to explain things to get the most votes because that's the way you stay in power. But certainly I don't think you need really a political professor or specialist to tell you that the Department of Foreign Affairs almost automatically reacted against any of these activities because we clearly saw how it produced our isolation and how it became worse and worse and worse.
. In 1984 when I succeeded in negotiating the Nkomati Accord that was really a great day in my life because here was now a model of two neighbouring states with two different ideological systems, political systems, and they make peace and more than peace. They made an agreement in which they will co-operate also in the economic field and in other fields, technological fields. A senior member of the ANC said to me the other day in all sincerity that that was one of our biggest setbacks, the Nkomati Accord. He said it came as a dreadful piece of news to them which, with all respect, proves my point that it was a big breakthrough for those of us who believed in the peaceful solution of disputes. I am convinced today on the basis of evidence subsequently introduced that elements in the -
POM. You were saying that you are convinced that?
PB. Elements, you must please try to understand that my department had an overseas function, I did not have a police force inside the country. I could not take a diplomat from Washington to form a team of investigators inside this country. But today on the basis of evidence subsequently produced I am convinced that elements within the defence force kept on supplying Renamo with weapons to scuttle, to sink the Nkomati Accord. It didn't suit that, and that leaves me with a feeling of dismay, frustration and, I don't know how to express myself because I went so far at the time when there were accusations. It's a pity that the TRC doesn't always bring those decisions to the fore, where I took matters of this nature to the Security Council to get their sanction and through them to the Cabinet that steps would be taken against anyone supplying Renamo with equipment. It's a dreadful feeling today to think that we were sitting together in one chamber taking that decision and maybe amongst those who took the decision were those who maybe afterwards went out and said bugger this, carry on. Now my opinion would apply to quite a number of other incidents. This is not just the incident, the Nkomati Accord was something monumental. I remember telegrams from Ronald Reagan, Thatcher, the Soviet President pouring in, all over the world congratulating us. This was a big day. I naturally felt, being the person who initiated it and put it through, and so the papers reported, I was basking in the glory of positive publicity. Why on earth do you think would I in circumstances of that nature ever be a party to destroy that? Then really I must go to see a psychiatrist.
POM. I want to take you back to two things, one which you talked about last year, you talked about the single most important achievement of your career and that was the Accords that led up to the independence of Namibia. I want you to talk a little bit about it, because I took a trip to Angola specifically to go to Cuito Cuanavale to look at the battle site believing that that may have been one of those historic turning points in terms of where the military - where you lost. I'd like to hear your comments on it. A couple of versions I've heard say that in the ground war you were wiping out the Cubans but when it came to the air war that the Cubans with the MIGs against the South Africans with the Mirages and the Impalas, you couldn't get spare parts for them, that essentially you began to lose air supremacy and as you lost air supremacy you lost the ability to conduct the battle on the ground, you couldn't go forward, you had to stop where you were. This was a psychological turning point in terms of the SADF's own image, of the country's image of itself as having some kind of invincible military might.
PB. No, I didn't know enough about those military operations. I must first of all admit that to you. Reports that we received in the Cabinet were rather scant and only very briefly emphasising the main points and reasons for various moves and counter moves. I think a major battle was at that river, not Lome, a very well known river where they did try to cross with tanks and there they were defeated by the South Africa cum Unita forces very, very badly. I remember discussing this with Jannie Geldenhuys who was then either Chief of the Defence Force or in a very senior position. I would rather ask you to consult a book he wrote or some books that were written. You can't believe all the books that you read because every one is written from a certain vantage point of view. But certainly the way I remember it was that - when my advice was sought that part I remember, I said under no circumstance must you push further. Forget it, what will you prove? You will destroy the place and from what I've heard from the description of it, it was not worth much, you couldn't achieve much and you would be saddled with the town and the people and food and medical supplies otherwise you would be blamed for having created the havoc and the misery and the tragedies that inevitably go with it. I remember I was asked at a given point, I don't know which point, and I remember this clearly, my advice was under no circumstances try to take it. Get out.
POM. For what purpose? A Vietnam quagmire.
PB. What purpose? I asked Geldenhuys, he must remember this, I said to him, "Jannie, what the hell do you want to do with it if you take it? What would you prove. And then the months and months afterwards when millions and millions will have to be pumped in? You've now taken it, the people will have to be fed, administered. They will be in need of water, medical supplies, food, jobs, work and there would inevitably be subversive elements there destroying buildings at night with bombs. You can't check every one in a place like that. And then your slow retreat will follow. There's nothing to be gained." Don't forget I was all along trying to implement Resolution 435 which was adopted already in 1978 and I, only ten years later, in 1988 signed the agreements. So whenever this happened it damaged my progress. I had never said, allow the Cubans to overrun us. No, I always said they must be stopped surely if they are hell-bent on moving southward and trying to invade the northern part of Namibia, stop them. But this was not part of such an action although the military alleged that it was. I said, "Look then, you're not going to stop them at Cuito Cuanavale, you're going to be saddled with an impossible occupational task which will cost us millions and sooner or later the public of this country will get fed up with it, just fed up." That was my reaction. So if I were you, with all respect, treat any other gossip with very much circumspection. Please be careful. I was asked, that was my advice.
POM. The second question relates back to what we were talking about earlier. If I were an outsider, an average person taking an interest in South Africa whether American or British or Irish or German or whatever and I was following the proceedings of the TRC and I heard minister after minister, State President after State President saying, "I knew absolutely nothing about these things whatsoever", do you think, just as an outsider, that I would believe that it is possible for somebody to be a State President or to exercise a position with that consummate amount of power and yet to be totally oblivious to this 'dirty war' going on around me or to be uninformed of some of the details?
POM. You know you should start here, not with this country. You should start with other countries to try and understand the issue because I think it is difficult, it is difficult for anyone to react that way, namely that you were in charge so you were responsible. That's why I say try and start with another country, say Britain, say America, and ask yourself whether in the United States of America you can hold the President responsible for many of the things that happened in Vietnam. He signed but he didn't approve gross violations of human rights. The same would apply I think to most governments of the world even today. I trust no-one will hold Mr Mandela responsible for things that might be happening at this present moment in prisons in this country with people who are in detention. I think one must first have that clinical perspective very clear in your mind because to come and suggest that we as a Cabinet must have been aware of a policeman who runs a brothel, with all respect I think this is a bit farfetched to expect me to know that as Foreign Minister, really. I think that's taking it a bit too far - or policemen stealing motor cars and taking the money, or policemen participating in illicit diamond buying. There are at this present moment policemen who are stealing motor cars and who are part of gangs stealing motor cars and the state can't catch them. So I really think we must draw a line somewhere here.
POM. I hear you talking more about the elimination and torture of activists and more political atrocities.
PB. The issue is really should we not have interested ourselves more in the reports, did we do enough to ensure that it did not take place? Then the answer, unfortunately, is no we did not, no we did not, particularly now that I read all this. The burning issue is should we not have, were we too complacent, were we too ready to accept the words and the assurances of the senior officials? Should we not have created a structure? Now I remember also from time to time when an Ambassador of another country came to me, sometimes it was the British, sometimes it was the Americans, sometimes it was another one, saying to me that they have information of an event of this nature which is really unacceptable to the British government or the United States government, then I naturally would have it - what can I do? I can only send it through to the department saying it's important that you furnish me with the facts and that this matter be very properly investigated because this government obviously has the means to know what is going on behind the scenes so you had better give me the raw facts. On rare occasions I succeeded, for instance with De Jonge, the Dutchman who was here, and he was arrested and had to stand trial for participating in arms traffic, weapons and all sorts of deadly weapons. So now he escaped to the Dutch Embassy or rather, I think when he agreed to show the police some of the places where he hid weapons, caches, and the two policemen who were with him never noticed that he was leading them into a building in Pretoria where the Dutch Embassy was accommodated, part of the Dutch Embassy. So at a given stage De Jonge was in his Embassy and when the two policemen recognised this they tried to drag him out and pulled him back. Then the Dutch government's case was -
POM. He was on national territory.
PB. Yes, and I sweat it out for two weeks and told the Cabinet every time that this is international law. Whether you like it or not this is international law and if you now really want to go to the bottom and put us in the absolute lowest level of states of the world we must hand him back. At first the thought of handing him back was terrifying but after two or three weeks I won my case and he was handed back and he stayed there for years I think until I succeeded in exchanging a big exchange of prisoners. That man Du Toit who went into Cabinda, together with De Jonge, and a Frenchman who was held in Ciskei, and 200 MPLA prisoners which Savimbi held, were all exchanged one night at Maputo airport and years later I saw De Jonge in Holland when Mr de Klerk and I went on an official visit there and he was there as one of the media representatives and he thanked me for the role I played. In a case like that where I had something which I administered in international relations, in the national law, I could carry the day as this incident proves to you. It was a hard one to swallow for the police but they had to.
. Other similar cases were two Swiss nationals who were abducted by the police from Swaziland. I insisted, and an official of my department accompanied them back to Swaziland, handed them over, and years later I persuaded the Cabinet to pay the Swiss government a certain amount of money in reparation. But then I was Minister of Foreign Affairs, it was my portfolio. I did not administer security legislation in this country and what was extremely difficult was when I or my department would complain against an event or an incident and then be told, but have you got the facts? Are you on the side of the terries? Do you want to see the country destroyed? You don't want us to raid across the border but in that house tonight we tell you there are four terrorists who cut the throats of this dear old elderly couple in a farmhouse in cold blood last week, they are there now, they are preparing their next errand. You want to tell us, will you go to the public if they tonight kill another old couple? Will you tell the public that you prevented us from stopping it?
. So that is why I find it extremely reprehensible, I find it reprehensible for certain police and military officers now to say orders came from the top, from higher level. In other words they manufacture evidence sometimes, they force you on the basis of that evidence to take a decision and then they go and do their evil things and now suddenly it's an order from the top. That part of the evidence I read from De Kock, for instance, was to the effect that one unit of the police would go and dig a hole and put in a cache of AK47s in it. Then another unit discovers it, then that unit draws up a report, 60 AK47s, so many hand grenades, so many this, this, this, discovered in a cache near Krugersdorp. Tracks leading directly to Botswana. The State Security Council, Cabinet takes a decision to follow them. That is international law. Now I read that that report was false. In other words decisions were then extorted out of us under false pretences. Where do you now see an order from? Where is the order now from the top? Where is the order now, what happens to the order if you in your presentation to get the OK from the top, present total false information to get your authorisation? Surely we can't even talk here in an instance of this nature, we can't even talk of Cabinet approval. Cabinet approval was for a given set of facts, was for action based on a given set of facts which were presumed to be true.
. Now the question arises should we not have been on our guard? Should we not have been more on our guard? Should we not have had an instrument that was neither attached to the police nor the defence force? What did National Intelligence then do? National Intelligence was supposed, in my opinion, to be that one. They should have played this role. They should have warned the President, the Cabinet and said look be careful, be careful about this we're not so sure. I think a bit more must be said about the role of National Intelligence also in this because that was supposed to be the structure. You had a police secret unit, whatever you want to call it, and a military one and then this one. This one was supposed to be the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, the President, to help him so that neither of the other two deceives him and if National Intelligence didn't do their job should we not have had a structure, our own structure who could have evaluated information? There were these elaborate structures to evaluate but now it proves to me, it seems to me that they were also deceived, the structures were deceived.
POM. Then you have this anomaly, and I want to go back to one of the things you said of being a thorn in their side, i.e. of whether the securocrats are the more hard-liners in the government. When negotiations were opened with Mr Mandela after Kobie Coetsee's visit to him in 1985 and then the subsequent meetings between Niel Barnard, Fanie van der Merwe, four or five civil servants and himself and when meetings took place after Mr de Klerk became President between the NIS and Thabo Mbeki in Lusaka, I think neither of which Mandela or De Klerk were aware of, were you cut out of that loop because you were suspect?
PB. Of course, they never included me. Mr Mandela in his book writes that he asked Coetsee years ago whether he could see me. Coetsee never conveyed the message, he did not even convey it to me. It's written in Mr Mandela's book and in the nature of things I had to convey requests to see Mr Mandela from foreign dignitaries and they were turned down throughout, turned down. Whenever I said, but what harm could he do? Only in the case of General Obasanjo did I succeed and in the case of a British judge, I can't remember his name, a man of very high repute in Britain. That judge saw him and General Obasanjo saw him at my request. Again they could not really refuse that because the EPG was here and was trying to negotiate a deal between us and the ANC and you couldn't really pretend even that you are genuine if you don't allow the mediators to see the man in prison.
POM. I want you to elaborate a bit on it. It struck me that your department had developed a highly skilful team of negotiators who dealt with the whole Namibian situation, who dealt with the Accords in 1984 and whatever, and yet these negotiators were never used by the government in negotiating with the ANC, so the best negotiators in the country from your point of view were left out of the process.
PB. It was very simple, they didn't trust us. This is the answer. Many people, many papers asked that question and I'll tell you the answer is they did not trust us, particularly after 1986 when I said this country would have a black President. Don't forget that was not only a knock I took, it reduced my influence to a large extent in the Cabinet.
POM. When Mr de Klerk took over he didn't see the value of having people from your department intimately involved in the design and conduct of the negotiations?
POM. I mean he had ministers really doing their line function and negotiating, essentially wearing them out, but without any negotiating skills because they had never been in negotiations.
PB. I can only reply, I hope I'm not doing them an injustice, but I think let them write their books, I'll write mine. I think they did not trust me. My position was so well known, it is not a secret, if you page through our papers over 20 years you will see what role I played, you will see what things I said and the strange thing is that I maintained public support for what I stood for. I attracted meetings here for 2000 people when De Klerk attracted 20 people to a meeting and the same with PW Botha.
PB. When the elections came I had to address a meeting virtually every day in some part of this country. It was almost embarrassing. Then I was the king. But when the elections were over I was just back as the Foreign Minister whom you can't trust, he wants the Immorality Act removed, he wants the Pass Laws removed, he doesn't want the security forces to operate as they should. There were stories that I was a secret member of some Foreign Affairs Council, illuminati was one word, part of a Kissinger gang. Clive Derby-Lewis even said that of course I was an American agent. He said it here in his amnesty application the other day. When I phoned the TRC and said can I appear, they refused it, they said, "Well it's not really a gross violation of a human right to be an American agent", which I found a little bit strange to be quite frank. Then he said I told the Americans about this Major du Toit and his recces in Cabinda and the Americans were waiting for them and that's why I was on the hit list. He said I was on the hit list, my name appeared, I think, either immediately below Chris Hani's or the next one on the hit list drawn up by him. So maybe I should thank God that I'm alive. It is a bit disconcerting today to reflect and think back how we were cheated even in the Cabinet and one confession I must make is certainly that I and those young politicians who supported me, that we did not succeed in turning the tide earlier, we did not succeed in turning the tide earlier. We battled but we didn't succeed in doing it earlier.
POM. That brings me to a peculiar question and that is that the relationship between Mr Mandela and PW Botha and the relationship between Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk. Now the last time you said the latter two never had a chemistry for each other, but there seems to be an attitude towards PW, Mandela has referred to him as a first class gentleman, rings him on his birthday to wish him a happy birthday. It's as though the Truth Commission has said leave him alone, concentrate all the sins of the National Party directly in the lap of FW.
PB. I understand your question. It's also as much of an intrigue to me as it is to you. How shall I describe it? It's one of those strange things about this strange society I suppose. In all seriousness I remember even before the elections one day Mr Mandela phoned me from George which is near PW Botha's domain, he was in George, Mr Mandela, and he said to me he was flying to Durban the same day and then he wanted to visit here, there's a hospital here in a black township. He wanted to visit this hospital which was then in President Mangope's country. I suppose it's this place, there's a big hospital here, where there were hunger strikers, prisoners on hunger strike, he wanted to visit them and persuade them to stop their strike and could I arrange it. So I phoned Mangope. At first he wouldn't agree. I phoned him again when he was already - he had his afternoon nap or something. I said to him, "Look, we're going to cause tremendous trouble because nothing is going to stop Mr Mandela. He's going to land here at Wonderboom Airport just here, and he's going to go to that hospital and what's more I've instructed my Deputy Minister, who was then Mr Leon Wessels, to accompany him." And I instructed Leon later, I said if they stop you tell them to shoot you. Those were my instructions. That is as far as I was prepared to go. Eventually Mangope agreed grudgingly, under protest, but it was quite obvious to me the order never went through because Leon Wessels subsequently reported to me that when they arrived here the police didn't know. They had to park far in the distance, walk in and he literally told the police, well if you want to arrest or take anyone take me, I'm the Deputy Minister. And Mandela saw them and persuaded them to stop their hunger strike.
. But returning to the call from George, in saying to me that he was going to do this visit he asked me, he said to me, "Pik, by the way, you don't happen to have PW Botha's number with you, here at George or The Wilderness?" And I said, "Well if it has remained the same, Mr President, just a moment", and I looked it up and I gave it to him and maybe he felt at that moment that he should at least perhaps just explain to me what he was intending to do. He said to me, "You know, Pik, in our culture", those were his words, "In our culture when we are in the area of a Chief then it is only courtesy that we should call him and greet him." Those were his words. So to come back to your basic question, I think there is an explanation in this direction which I've given you, namely a feeling for courtesy, a respect for courtesies in terms of protocol and tradition, age, leadership positions, etc., which is highly valued by Mr Mandela irrespective of other differences. There is that gentlemanship, there is that high level of courtesy I would call it, tradition in African culture as well.
POM. So in a way he saw Botha as his equal?
POM. In power and competence or whatever?
PB. He was the leader of the whites.
POM. In a way that he never saw De Klerk.
PB. And he's now an elderly man and here he is and I'm in his area and my tradition says to me, phone him, don't pick a fight with him, just phone him and say, "Look here I am, I just want to tell you that I am here in your area and I greet you, I want you to know I was here." Yes, precisely that. I think you must try and ascribe quite a lot of his behaviour to his sense of courtesy and loyalty. Those are attributes that weigh very heavily with him and that is why I predict to you a bad run for this youngster who is now National party leader. He started off at a National Party Congress in Durban just a week or two ago by referring in a very discourteous derogative manner to 'the Madiba jive', the Madiba jive won't build houses, the Madiba jive does not end the crime. I want to predict to you that he's going to pay a heavy price for that.
POM. Where does that choice leave the NP?
PB. There's nothing wrong with youth. After all I was a young man and those who pushed me to oppose PW Botha and Connie Mulder way back in 1978, you know that is almost 20 years ago, we were also young, youthful and we wanted to make a bold statement. We knew we couldn't win, we wanted to make a statement and say here we are, we are a voice. But then we had a voice, we had a statement, human rights, fundamental freedoms, the removal of apartheid. That was something that you could voice. It was not popular but that was our statement. He doesn't have such a statement.
POM. I don't see anything there that can broaden the base of the party in an imaginative way, in ways that are necessary to -
PB. I can't see it happening because I think as an opposition the NP is doomed. It cannot rejuvenate itself even if it selects a person who is 21 years old. It does not need biological, physical rejuvenation, it needs mental and spiritual rejuvenation and unfortunately that will require the party to disband and disappear.
POM. Where does this leave Roelf and Bantu?
PB. I think in a very good position. At the present moment, if they stick together now, probably either of them or another, they have breathing space now for a new leader to come to the fore. They are off to a good start, no question about it. You can't stage that kind of audience in this country without interested people. The quality of the people there I saw in pictures and whose names I saw were quite high, a lot of them very youthful. I think the only hope for the NP is to talk to Roelf and Bantu and say, right. The same applies to Tony Leon if they are serious. Then you can have an effective opposition. Roelf has a statement you see, he has a vision. He says basically the structures of the past cannot continue, and I agree with him. We must break with them. The blacks of this country will not join a movement like the NP. It doesn't matter how many times you change its name or how many times you change its leader, you cannot change the image and it doesn't matter what they do there is no role for the NP after the 1994 elections. Their role has ended and De Klerk should have supervised the dismantling of the party. That's what he should have done and disappeared early.
POM. Where did he entrap himself?
PB. I think in all fairness to him he thought that he was the President to preside over this transformation, which to some extent was forced on him because Barend du Plessis, who was also my Deputy at one stage and the two of us have always been very close politically and otherwise, Barend lost by four votes and told him in that caucus meeting, he said to him, "I want to say to you we need a vast leapfrog jump, not an ordinary one." He made it clear that if you don't do it we'll split the party. That was made clear, very clear. But as I said my remorse is - there are two main elements, we should have done more to guard against the type of gross violations of human rights that occurred and, secondly, I and the group who supported me should have done more to turn the tide earlier.
POM. Have you time for another couple of questions or are you tired?
PB. No, no, go ahead.
POM. When you get tired just say so. Just to run you through it, is the TRC working?
PB. Yes I think so, I hope, I've said so before. As a matter of fact when I was approached, maybe I should just say a few words on that, when the leadership came up, became vacant, quite a number of present NP members of parliament telephoned me, including quite senior members, to ask me to make myself available. It was not my idea. I didn't shoot down the idea immediately but said to them, "All right if we return to the government of national unity and if the party changes its attitude towards the TRC." I now see that this young man at least accepted my advice on improving the relationship with the TRC. In our circumstances, with the evidence that has been produced so far, it means that for years and years victims and relatives of victims would never have known who murdered or tortured or damaged their loved ones and friends and also your newspapers, your media would not have stopped. I mean if this kind of evidence is now coming to the fore then a good investigative journalist getting an assignment from his paper could have unearthed quite a bit of this over a period of time and come up with contiguous story after story, the next one, the next one, like a minefield. You've hardly survived the previous explosion than the next one is there, with endless debate, allegations, with acrimonious exchanges carrying on and on every time a revelation is made.
. The TRC offers the opportunity to reveal all this. Furthermore it gives virtually all sectors of South African society the opportunity to come and state its particular viewpoint. I think the Afrikaans press made a bit mistake by not appearing. There was the hearing on the media recently and they were absent. It's a pity. The NP, if they do not make use of this opportunity, all they do is they sell themselves down the drain because the suspicions will remain and if they don't come to the fore and if they say there is a different perspective, come and give it. In six years from now all that will be left will be the record of the hearings and the NP will stand out like a sore thumb not being able, in the hour that it was really required, to come and tell the country in the first place, and the world, but the country in the first place, where did it stand? Why did its congresses allow these resolutions to be taken year after year after year? It is an over-simplification now to try and find specific scapegoats like the Security Council or a minister or a Cabinet or parliament.
. It is forgotten that once a year every year the provincial congresses of the four provinces held their annual congresses which were the heavy events of the year with agendas by the branches, the branch chairpersons, the regional divisional chairpersons, over a wide spectrum of life in this country including apartheid, including the battle against terrorists, including a host of subjects. There these matters were debated, voted on and although they could not prescribe to government, if you wanted to retain your seat or if you didn't want to become too unpopular a minister, you had better be there. There was a time that all the ministers had to attend every congress and reply to the motions put, the proposals called motions, but proposals put there under his portfolio. I remember mine, mine was quite terse and harsh, at times: can't more steps be taken against the American government, can't more be done about this, can't the British government be told to go to hell, sort of, and why did the minister say De Jonge had to be returned to the Dutch Embassy? He broke the law first, something like that. Must De Jonge go free after he smuggled into the country bombs with which our children were going to be killed? You had to stand up there and defend this.
. So I think particularly a person in your position must be careful or must at least give the full picture. To suddenly come and say the government misled the people is simply not true. The people had a voice, unfortunately a very sharp one on occasion and a very conservative one and a very verkrampte one on top of it, full of racial prejudice and often bitterness and hatred. That's after all why the Conservative Party broke away and the HNP was formed basically because Maoris would have been allowed in a rugby team and because certain Malawi diplomats' children would have attended a white school in Pretoria. Today people laugh about it but there was a time when I had to defend that from public platforms in this country and when the party was born on the basis that that should remain the policy. So the sadness is that, as I said, we couldn't turn the tide earlier. Maybe I should have resigned at the time I made my black President remark and then formed my own party. That was 1986. The question is, would I have received enough votes, I was promised a lot of money, to turn the tide much earlier than 1990? I don't know. It's an open question but it remains a feeling of remorse in myself that I and the people who supported me could perhaps have done more.
POM. The ANC: are we in for one-party democracy, so to speak, for the foreseeable future, and, I take it, beyond the year 2004?
PB. I doubt it. The same aftermath effects frustrate the expectations but not only that, you know there has never been a dictatorship even in the old traditional days in this country and I think we can now speak more openly about ethnicity now that apartheid is out of the way. It still plays a role and geography in this country plays a big role. It is quite obvious that circumstances in the Western Cape differ not only climatically but also economically very vastly from Gauteng, from KwaZulu/Natal, vastly from the more arid regions in the Northern Cape, and I think the diversity which exists in this country will militate against a centralised, institutionalised form of government. It militates against it. Even if the ANC does obtain a two thirds majority, which it might well do at the next election unless Mr Roelf Meyer and Bantu Holomisa stop it, then sooner or later I think by the year 2004 there will be a different political alignment in this country for the simple reason that whoever governs this country will wish to be in line with the new century.
POM. The global economy.
PB. Globalisation. I haven't touched on it yet. Globalisation is going to be so overwhelming. Those words I want to be recorded. It's going to be so overwhelming that the vast majority of people do not even realise or even appreciate what it's going to mean to us, not even speaking of the world but to us here. This whole revolution, the availability of information on just about every subject of life, the new styles of tuition, of imparting knowledge to pupils and students is going to happen much faster. Doctors will be trained faster, so will everyone in life. Get that knowledge and if you don't get that knowledge you will have machines which will enable you to get the knowledge and lifestyles will change, commerce will change, trade will. You will buy shares by pressing a few buttons on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, in Vancouver, in Johannesburg, wherever. It's going to be so tremendous that no government, it doesn't matter which one it is, where it is, that still attempts in the new century to govern against this current is doomed, that government is doomed.
POM. Just a few last things. Corruption, a lot of it is inherited from the past and it's no worse than it ever was, but it's being exposed?
PB. It's very difficult if we do not have a norm in terms of which you and I can judge the quantum, let's say the number of instances together with the amounts of money involved that after all would be more or less your norm. It's a combination of the number of instances and the size of the money involved together. It's very difficult to say. The problem I have with that reasoning is that it evades then the task of tackling it. It is so easy psychologically to say, look, I inherited this from my grandfather, now you don't do anything about it. I think it's the wrong approach. I really believe it's the wrong approach. And then there are a few signs that trouble me, the way the Auditor General has been attacked lately. That has never happened before. A few Cabinet ministers never liked him, in my days also, but no-one would ever have dared to cross swords with him. There's a difference. parliament was the place. And this is a great pity. I hope the present government will soon come to realise that they must not walk that road at all, not at all. if they do that the present Auditor General, whether you like him or not, is highly thought of by international organisations and governments and he plays a significant role in holding up the hope of control over government finances. If you damage that then I will be inclined to view the future with despair. So it's a pity to come and make that kind of comparison or rather say we inherited it, it's worse or it's no worse than the past. That should not be the issue. The issue is, is it rife, is it thriving? Whatever the causes it must be stamped out and action must be taken.
POM. This emphasis, more emphasis on Africanisation, what do you think that conveys to whites?
PB. I think a fear that blacks will be appointed to positions for which they are not equipped at present and which they could not hold, which is a pity because it is also humiliating for the person. It's humiliating for a person to be appointed to a position in which he can't compete properly. In terms of the new age that's coming, the new globalisation that's coming, you won't be able to hide those kind of appointments any longer, they will be known. I will be extremely interested one day to hear from you what foreign ambassadors say about us and about the standards of various departments and how accessible ministers are and how soon did departments respond to enquiries.
POM. I can tell you that right now.
PB. I don't want to be the judge on that but I have my ears open. I am still in touch with foreign embassies here who speak quite openly to me. I won't mention names but some of them don't hide the fact any more. They think that certainly in the foreign affairs field we've taken quite a dip. And you see that is a problem. Whatever anyone says of Foreign Affairs, the diplomats I appointed were all university degree people who had to undergo additional training, probation period and they were drilled not to receive medals on parade but to report accurately and clinically correctly the currents overseas as it affects their country. And that made our foreign services, in my opinion, one of the highest quality in the world. There are American and British diplomats who will concede this. You could put my men in anywhere, they could stand on their own, they could talk about any event in the world and put it in perspective in terms of world trends and tendencies demanding respect from audiences and universities where they were invited to, to make speeches or on press media occasions. They could stand on their own, they would give answers. If they couldn't give an answer they will respond in a dignified, highly sophisticated manner which also demanded respect. It's a pity because that's your window.
POM. Two last things and they're related. The direction of the public service in general, the rather damning report made by Zola Skewiya's review of the state of the provincial administrations, the poor quality of local government, the whole question of inability to deliver and putting that on the one hand. On the other hand what I would call what appears to be the over-selling of GEAR. This country is not going to reach 5% growth next year or the year after or by the year 2000. I think the most recent estimate down-rates the rate of growth this year to 2.2%, no jobs are being created. It's just an Emperor with no clothes to talk about 250,000 jobs being created a year. The mass of the poor are as poor as they ever were. The gap between rich and poor is just about as big as it ever was. There has been some black empowerment in terms of the emergence of the professional and public sector elite but other than that for the average black person, give and take a little electricity here and there and given water here and there, the prospects of this massive social and economic transformation that's drummed out every other day is really just rhetoric.
PB. Again, you know, statistics require perspective. We're on the African continent. We remain by far the country with the highest GDP. We still produce the same GDP as 42 other African states, which is just about the same as that of Belgium with a population of, what is Belgium - about eight million, but that just shows you how poor Africa is. If you live here and you drive often between Pretoria and Johannesburg, then you see the traffic. It costs money to drive a car, believe me. You see the big trucks. It's amazing. I am caught up often on a highway, particularly that one to Germiston southwards and then the southern part of Johannesburg towards the West Rand with ten, twelve, fifteen trucks loaded with equipment, building equipment, technological equipment. I doubt whether anywhere in Africa you will see what you will see here if you go into a helicopter and fly just over the Gauteng region. It is still the most amazing sight on the African continent.
. A new government came into being. It had to adjust, adapt and assume power. It takes time. It's not done overnight. The NP, we ourselves in the NP insisted that time on decentralisation, on strong provincial governments. We ought to have known that in your provinces some of them, north, east, was very little experience in running a country. We ought to have known that the experiments we made with Ciskei, Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, were total failures, total failures and that the corruption that was rife in those states could never be achieved again. Whatever is going on now is less than it was then. So here I must acknowledge we tried that experiment of putting into power, or allowing people to achieve power, without the people being equipped to exercise the power.
. In central government you don't have the same problem. I think, although I differ often with many ministers, that the quality of debate and the quality of argumentation and the logic that they follow in coming to a decision cannot really be faulted. It is of a high pedigree. There's no question about it. So it's not lacking in quality of intellectual capacity, no. It's lacking in its provinces the people there who have the same calibre as you will find in the central government. The central government is simply too busy with its Cabinet meetings and committee meetings to give too much attention to what is happening in the provinces and must therefore rely on reports from the provinces. I think in our particular situation before one comes to an assessment of this nature one must keep in mind the abruptness of this transformation process, the disruption that of necessity followed in its wake and is still there, rampant, and people sort out things. Premiers have also already changed in the provinces far too quickly in my opinion. If you shuffle around too much, you look at the Cabinet it's been pretty stable except for the NP that quit, even Pallo Jordan is back. I know of not a single minister who started with me has been fired or who left. It's not the case in the provinces. In the provinces you have had quite a turnover already which doesn't make for stability and solidarity and coherence. So I think a little more time is needed.
. If I look, as I say in conclusion, on the ground at the economic activity, at the opportunities, I see more and more blacks and whites grouping together to form joint companies or associated companies. I welcome that. I hear, I see, I meet many blacks asking for advice on who could they approach if they want to have a share in the oil industry, in the petrol industry, mining industry. You bring blacks and whites together out of a common shared profit motive and they then become allies and friends. It's there, it's happening, it's growing. All these are good signs, these are positive signs. I still believe from a budget point of view the government has done well under difficult circumstances. The Finance Minister is never a popular man. I think Trevor Manuel has handled himself very well. I wish him good luck and I think that we must delay judgement here a bit longer. I don't see miracles happening overnight.
POM. So if I asked you, finally, on a scale of one to ten to judge where the government was when it came over and where it is, where one would be unsatisfactory and ten very satisfactory, where would you put it as it is about to enter 1998?
PB. You will have to split it up a bit more. I think at least split it up in economics, social progress and upliftment, security and crime, education, etc., but that can be part of your social side. Then I would say on the economic/financial side seven; on the social upliftment side four; on the crime and security side almost zero.
PB. That I grouped together with medical services, social upliftment, medical, educational. No more than four out of ten.
POM. I will leave it at that. Thank you for your time. I always appreciate it. As you see I could have spent hours here, which I do. It's a lovely place to talk.
PB. It's just I have this terrible flu and I must prepare myself for this meeting.
POM. When do you go before the TRC?
PB. 14th October.
POM. In Johannesburg?
PB. Johannesburg luckily. It was due to be in Cape Town. I'm glad they shifted it to Jo'burg.