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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
16 Jan 2003: Ayob, Ismail
POM. Today I'd like to focus a bit on some four things very specifically because they are a matter of importance. One is the manner in which Mr Mandela's letter to PW Botha was taken out of Victor Verster. Mac is of the opinion, even though
IA. How the letter was taken out of Pollsmoor?
POM. That's the one, the letter to PW Botha seeking a meeting. Mac is convinced that it had to be tape recorded if only because it was perfect Mandela style, structure and content and logic in the way everything was presented, that it would have been impossible for somebody to remember it in their head because it appeared to be such a carefully written letter. He puts immense importance on this because, two, he says that at the meeting you were having with Mr Mandela that day that Dullah Omar had accompanied you and that, three, the letter when its contents became disseminated, not the letter itself but its contents became disseminated among quite a large number of activists, and the message was Mandela is selling out, he had to engage in a major damage control exercise, calling Valli Moosa to get members of the UDF together the following morning so he could go through the letter line by line and explain to them what Mandela was really saying, that rather than selling out he was saying that negotiations must take place between the ANC and the government, "I am not negotiating on behalf of the ANC, I am not negotiating myself." And he had to go and visit Govan Mbeki to get the message to Govan because Govan believed that Mandela was selling out and that this was a major damage control exercise at the time. So over to you.
IA. Urban legend. I went to visit Nelson Mandela with Winnie Mandela, just the two of us were present. Another urban legend and at a certain point in my life I wrote down a list of lawyers who claimed to be Nelson Mandela's lawyers, there were about thirty at that stage. One of those names was Dullah Omar. Dullah Omar was nowhere near Nelson Mandela. He gave me the gist of what his response was, the prose was mine but it communicated the spirit of what it was. What was clear is that Winnie was banned at that time and it was clear that with the high level of publicity there would have to be a public reply to that offer, not a secret reply. The truth of the matter is that Nelson Mandela had responded directly to PW Botha. I have a copy of that reply but much later I got that. It is not as poetic as my version, or the public version, but it said the same thing and the American Consul, of all people, told me that they knew those were not the words of Nelson Mandela because the SA government had given them the original reply from Nelson. My response was, in substance is there any difference? The answer was no.
. As far as Valli Moosa and Dullah - there was nobody present.
POM. So you went and you saw him with Winnie?
IA. With Winnie. Yes.
POM. And he laid out to you
IA. The broad principles. But by then he had already replied to PW but he said, "This is my reply", and in his legalistic form. I rewrote that for public consumption and that dramatic, powerful impact that you have at a public speech was my version. I take all the credit for it. I don't know Valli Moosa, he never appeared.
POM. Oh no he wouldn't. The line, again, would be that you would drop that and Mac would have somebody pick it up?
IA. No, this was a long time before I'd seen Mac. My contact with Mac was much, much later.
POM. I'm not talking about the 1989 letter where Mandela sought the meeting with PW.
IA. We're not talking about the 1989 one?
POM. There were two letters. There was one where Botha said to him renounce violence and I will release you.
IA. That's the one I'm speaking of, that's not 1989. That's the one I speak of, yes.
POM. OK. That's the one that was read out in the stadium by his daughter.
IA. Yes, but I've given you an explanation of that.
POM. OK, we've got that one. Now there's a later one, that was the one where he wrote seeking a meeting with PW Botha.
IA. That's correct.
POM. And that's the one that Mac is talking about.
IA. I have no first hand knowledge of the insecurity in Lusaka but it was patent. They had no idea of what Nelson Mandela was doing. I would go a little further, I would agree with that insecurity that they suffered and I did go to see them and, again, when we arranged that I told them what his thoughts were, what he was doing, but I didn't think that they were totally convinced. I think there was less than complete trust that he would do the right thing.
POM. That's what Mac is getting at, that when this letter, the second letter, the 1989 letter, where he was looking for the meeting with PW, there was somebody who had been present with you (he said Dullah Omar) present with you on that occasion and that after they came out they spread the word (whoever) that Mandela was selling out and this spread like wildfire and Mac says he got hold of the copy that you had dropped for him to be picked up that he was to convey to Lusaka through his communications system and that he at that point when he heard what was going on called Valli and said, "You guys have got it all wrong, Mandela is not selling out, I want you to call a meeting tomorrow morning and bring in the main people you can contact in the UDF so I can go through this letter line by line."
IA. That's without my knowledge and my presence, but Dullah Omar was present I think at two meetings at that late stage but there was no meeting that I know of which took place in my presence. So Mac may very well be correct and I am sure he is
POM. So forget about Valli Moosa.
IA. I understand you, that as far as Nelson Mandela's conduct was concerned with his negotiations with government, not one day did I feel insecure or did I feel that he might be selling out. What he did always is that he would explain, not in great detail, but in sufficient detail to make you feel comfortable that this is what he was doing, no more, no less, and this is why he was doing it. Nothing appeared illogical, not to me. But as I said the ANC was very insecure because I think the government at that time had the idea that they would move the nationalist, that's Nelson Mandela, into their camp away from the communists who lived in Lusaka and isolate the communists and then hopefully at some stage work with the nationalist, Mandela, and bring in Buthelezi, the nationalist, and the third leg would be the Afrikaner government and they would continue to rule. I think this continued right up to fairly close to the first democratic election, that there was still an expectation at that time that the IFP with the NP would rule for the foreseeable future. Events overtook them.
POM. But to go back to the letter, the second letter, this would be the 1989 letter that he wrote to Botha essentially asking for a meeting to talk about the possibilities of
IA. But that was in the first letter. He had been asking for a meeting with government going back to the time when he had the attack of TB, when the Eminent Persons Group was here, and he had been writing letters continuously to say we must have a meeting.
POM. Then you had the 1985 process that started. Then you're now in 1989 and do you remember that letter specifically?
IA. I can't remember the letter specifically because there were a number of these initiatives to initiate dialogue and that is what made Lusaka very insecure, and London.
POM. OK. If you tonight have a look at Long Walk to Freedom he quotes the letter in there most specifically, the letter that I am referring to, or that Mac is referring to. So we can leave that one there for the moment.
IA. OK, I'm sorry, I misunderstood, I thought it was
POM. No, I was going to ask you about the second one. I was going to take them in the order, that was the second one so the second one is crossed off.
IA. I answered the question before you could ask the question.
POM. That's right, yes. You did the one that his daughter read out. All that thunderous applause was for your magnificent prose.
IA. Oh absolutely, I enjoyed every moment of it!
POM. The second is that when you were on the plane with Winnie Mandela and Kobie Coetsee was on that plane and you suggested to her, as I recollect from a conversation, that she go up and say hello to him and then he invited her to sit with him, did you discuss with her afterwards the content of their conversation?
POM. Did Coetsee give any indication that he was prepared to engage Mandela in any form of conversation?
IA. Winnie Mandela has an incredible retention and recollective memory. She related that entire conversation in some detail. I don't enjoy that privilege, I make notes. But one little expression I remember, she said, "He knows nothing about what's going on in this country." But subsequent events confirmed that Kobie Coetsee was not really for dialogue because it was just shortly after that that the Eminent Persons Group came and Obasanjo was given permission first to see Madiba. Subsequently the other members were also given permission. But Kobie Coetsee was at the prison at the time when the Eminent Persons Group went there. I was present but not in the meeting. Madiba said to me after they left, he said Kobie Coetsee came in, shook his hand and despite Madiba's request for him to join that meeting he declined and he left. He did not want to be present at the meeting with the EPG.
POM. He may have had his own political reasons for that. You know I interviewed him I think we may have talked about this before I spent days with him, I went down to his farm and we holed up down there and we holed up in Cape Town for days on end. In the end I could make no sense of him.
IA. No, because basically he was a farmer.
POM. But the contradictions in his accounts of things were at such variance with every other account.
IA. He was a frightened little man. But I'll tell you who was a great influence on his life, indirectly, Winnie Mandela. Winnie Mandela was exiled to Brandfort. I appointed that Attorney in Brandfort. His wife became close to Winnie. She influenced her husband and her husband talked to Kobie Coetsee. I don't know if Kobie Coetsee ever mentioned De Waal to you and De Waal's influence on him?
POM. What's the name again?
IA. The man's name was De Waal and he practised as Hendricks and De Vlette in Brandfort, a decent human being but his wife was the human being, the real human being who was close to Winnie. She died and De Waal died subsequently, but De Waal has died relatively recently. His wife died I think in the late eighties.
POM. So she would talk to Winnie.
IA. Was influenced by Winnie. She in turn influenced her husband, the husband influenced Kobie Coetsee. I'm not sure whether Kobie Coetsee mentioned that to you. Part of Kobie Coetsee's conflict was the humanity that was coming through from Winnie through this long circuitous route because Winnie spoke of hardship, of struggle, of pain, a world that Kobie Coetsee knew nothing about.
POM. Sorry, I just want to clear up one point because it has come up and I want to put a line through it or say this never happened. That she didn't come back to you in the course of telling you what her conversation with Kobie didn't say: he said they would consider the release of her husband and be prepared to enter into negotiations if the struggle was suspended, if he renounced violence, if this, if that, if the other. Did any of that kind of talk surface in the conversation, or at least her account that she gave you?
IA. With Kobie Coetsee?
IA. Not at all.
POM. Not at all, OK.
IA. PW was known as the Groot Crokodil, the big crocodile, and he ran his cabinet as if he was the headmaster in a kindergarten. What you're suggesting to me is so far-fetched that any of his cabinet ministers would have never contemplated making such a suggestion directly to Winnie Mandela without PW's express instructions.
POM. Maybe that's the same reason why Kobie didn't sit in with the EPG because he didn't have permission.
IA. He didn't have permission. Oh absolutely.
POM. So it wasn't a question of whether he wanted to. It was question of, my God, I wasn't given permission and I wasn't told that I could, I'll assume that I can't.
IA. But there was something else about this meeting of the EPG, that very morning PW ordered the bombing of Gaborone. Was that a coincidence?
POM. I don't think so. In fact it couldn't have been. Who told me about that was Pik Botha. He said he got called, it was early in the morning, a Sunday morning or something, and he got a call and it could have been from the American Ambassador or whatever and it was like, "What the hell are you guys doing?" He said, "What are you talking about?" "What do you mean what are we talking about? You've just bombed Gaborone." Pik said, "We what?" And he got in contact with Magnus Malan and said, "We just bombed Gaborone", Malan said, "What?" And according to Pik's account Botha gave the command himself, direct, bypassed all channels and just did it.
IA. I believe that. I have no knowledge of that but I would believe that. To me as an outsider it appeared very clear that his entire cabinet was terrified.
POM. Interesting how one person can terrify a group of other people. You'd think they'd all just get together and say he's terrifying us, let's get rid of the bastard.
IA. They don't work. Have you ever interviewed PW?
POM. I've tried. The closest I got, when he's in Cape Town he stays at the Town House and I used to stay there.
IA. I still stay in the Town House.
POM. For many years I stayed in the Town House and I learned from the staff that he was coming in. They gave me his room number, so one evening, one night when I came in I put a letter under his door, or that could be handed to him when he came in, outlining what I was doing, that I would like to talk to him about the possibility of an interview. The next morning at breakfast he strode into the room well I won't say he strode in but he came in and with just marginal eye contact he started moving in my direction and I got up and introduced myself and he said he'd read my letter but wasn't prepared to be interviewed.
IA. That is consistent with my image of him, a man of great courtesy but hard. He was not going to ignore you, he was going to tell you, thank you for your letter but get lost. The normal reaction would be just to ignore you.
POM. That's right.
. That's the difference between him and anyone else and Mac must have told you, or if he hasn't then I must share it with you, of how PW Botha made democracy possible and why Nelson Mandela discouraged, I don't think one can use the expression 'blocked' because he didn't have the power or the authority there, but he discouraged any kind of legal action against Botha. Has no-one talked about that?
IA. As we were going up to the first democratic election the threat from the right became quite serious and there was a serious prospect of a fairly large part of the army joining the rebellion to stop democracy.
POM. They'd be joining with Viljoen?
IA. No, Viljoen was part of the conspiracy. Nelson Mandela discovered this. He then asked FW de Klerk to stop this coup from happening. FW said he couldn't or was unable to interfere. Nelson Mandela went to PW Botha. PW picked up the telephone, summoned Viljoen and told him to stop it. That was the end of the coup language and talk. Madiba was grateful enough when later there were attempts to proceed with legal action and contempt proceedings, he discouraged it. He says that action made democracy possible.
POM. Can you put a time frame on this in terms of - ?
IA. I'll go back to Madiba when I see him and ask him to repeat the full story to me and I will then relate it to you with dates and places because this is something that he related to me just in passing. I've always remembered it but I will go and get a little more detail.
POM. It's an astonishing piece of information.
IA. Yes. And that's why he has more respect for PW Botha than for FW. For the moment treat this as background but I will get you the long version.
POM. I won't mention it to anybody until you confirm it.
IA. I will sit with him and ask him specifically for time, dates, places and detail.
POM. This would be - ?
IA. Before the elections.
POM. You had Viljoen and Mangope.
IA. Yes, Mac was involved in that to try and persuade Mangope that he couldn't survive on his own.
POM. Yes, Mac was convinced at that time that the SADF were going to step in and reinstall Mangope.
IA. More. They were going to stop the election.
IA. OK, but I'll get the detail for you.
POM. It's always been a question that has been raised, what would the military do? Would they just stand idly by and allow this election to take place or had De Klerk control this was the question, had de Klerk ever established control over his security forces?
IA. I think not but PW Botha had in fact established total control over the military and retained that power sufficiently to be able to persuade Viljoen. Professor Crane Brinton's book says if you've got the army, and there were four components, but the army was a critical factor for a successful revolution. You need the army on your side. All modern revolutions work on that basis. No army, no revolution.
POM. What book is this?
IA. It's called Analysis of Revolution, it's probably fifty years old, or Four Great Revolutions by a man called Professor Crane Brinton and he covered four modern revolutions. Now let me think, it was the Russian, the American, the French and there was one other European revolution, there were four components that he analysed and each of these four components were present in each one of them.]
POM. I'm tempted to leave it there for today because I haven't had an opportunity to read the other transcripts so I don't know where we were or where to pick up a line of thought. We can talk about how you came to be Mandela's lawyer and the experience of that, getting to know somebody both on a personal level and on a professional level and what stages you saw him go through in his evolution from going into jail in the prime of his life and in one sense coming out as an old man but really not coming out as an old man at all, the enormous discipline, never to despair and at what price that was bought.
. One area Mac and I have explored, it's on my agenda this evening, is to call his former wife Tim, because I feel that she, from what I can gather from people, a lot of people know her, it still is something that hurts her, the manner in which she and Mac broke up and his quick remarriage afterwards. I am sure that with all the troubles that Winnie has gotten into while Mandela was in prison subsequently and at some level must still weigh on him. Here you have a woman who at one level made a magnificent contribution and maybe still does and at another level of what should have been her finest hour too, her life had gotten so strung out. I always remember that phrase of his during his divorce proceedings when he said that the year he had spent as a free man in that house was more lonely than any year he'd ever spent in prison. That's an astonishing statement. I tried to place it but I have no context to place the man, his emotional life, what the years in jail did to his emotional life. Maybe you could just talk about that side of him, the human side is often far more important than what we think is the important side. In the end who is Nelson Mandela as you know him, not this great man, one of the great, great figures of the 20th century or whatever, but who is he?
POM. I'll try but Fatima Meer said in the first biography that 'I will expose him warts and all', there were very few warts. It's very difficult because I've known him for 18 years as a prisoner and then for the last 12 years as a free person in different capacities. Initially as a fighter for freedom, then as a politician when the ANC decided it was no longer a liberation movement but a political party, then as a president and finally as a retired president. I think you find the real human being is a bit difficult for me to share with other people. Occasionally I will say in passing he is no different to you and I. He has the same kind of troubles that you and I have at the personal level with family and friends and acquaintances and colleagues and he has high moments with the same people. This afternoon I had a person here who described him on a day last November at the Gary Player golf tour tournament, here were the world's greatest golfers playing at the Gary Player golf tournament which Gary Player does for his charity and he says some of that money goes to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund so Madiba was persuaded to put in an appearance. There was an expectation that he would arrive at some stage, suddenly chattering out of the sky came a military helicopter and Madiba emerged from it and he walked up to this line of the greatest golfers in the world, shook their hands, made a short speech, went back into the helicopter and disappeared into the sky. Nobody could forget that moment. God had come to visit and he left.
. Now you're asking me who's the real Mandela. Can I break that image?
POM. That is part of my function to you see that's not a human being, that is a god.
IA. But let me tell you something else, FW de Klerk and PW Botha, the two former presidents of SA lived by the guidelines issued maybe 90 years ago that these are the privileges that former presidents enjoyed, lifelong free first class air travel and certain other privileges at that level. Nelson Mandela can't travel any class on a commercial flight. There would be riots just to get near him or to catch a glimpse of him. On 7 February this year he is going to launch his lithographs on Robben Island, there will be 200 invited guests.
POM. Is this the rock star, the rock concert?
IA. No nothing to do with the rock stars, half of those are journalists coming from all over the world, the other half are just by the way. Everybody is going to Robben Island by ferry and the SA Air Force again is providing a large military helicopter, they will drop down out of the sky, appear at the dinner, make his five-minute speech, shake a few hands and then disappear into the sky again, reinforcing the image. There is no other.
POM. When you say there is no other?
IA. He goes to London and he tells a cheering crowd in Brixton, he says, "I love you so much, I want to put you all into my pocket and take you home." The crowd was ecstatic. I was talking to some English lawyers. They said if any of our politicians or even if our Queen said that they'd laugh her out of court.
POM. But that's an image for the world.
IA. But he didn't build it, he's not Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola spends trillions in building up an image. What makes him special? Let me tell you what makes him special, because he goes to the UN for the very first time, he couldn't make his speech because he was standing there for an hour while the most important leaders of the entire world stood in a queue to shake his hand. He causes such disruption in the UN the likes of which have never been seen before or since. He didn't build that image.
POM. No, the world built it. Now why? And that is the world bereft wanting to believe, to believe that there is something better than the kind of mundane, uninspiring, visionless, ambitious people they get to be their leaders. He became famous for the act of not being seen. Now most people become famous because they are seen. He was the first celebrity, politician, the first celebrity made by worldwide television. The Wembley concert when he was 70 years old was a worldwide concert. People who had never heard of Mandela but loved these musicians heard of Mandela and suddenly got to love a man they had never seen. All they knew about him was that he was in prison and had been in prison for most of his life.
IA. In 1947 Evelyn, the first wife, was studying to become a specialist nurse. Adelaide Tambo was a fellow student. Adelaide Tambo will relate to you that in 1947 when nobody knew who Nelson Mandela was outside this country or outside the black community, Evelyn was treated as a queen at that hospital. Adelaide says the rest of them would take buses from the station to get to the hospital, Evelyn would have a chauffeured car coming to fetch her, for no other reason than she was Mrs Mandela. So don't tell me that television created him or the concert created him. Something in that man put him so far ahead of the rest of the leadership of the ANC and he proved it, that Oliver Tambo held together that organisation which is now in control and is the dominant political force in this country, but when you think of the struggle, the ANC's leadership today and yesterday and tomorrow will respect Oliver Tambo more than Nelson Mandela and they will respect Chief Albert Luthuli more than Nelson Mandela and they will respect Thabo Mbeki more than they will respect Nelson Mandela. But as soon as you go out into the street, into the smallest little village in India and you say you're South African, "Ah Nelson Mandela." What does that village in India know about SA? It's the place of Nelson Mandela. Not Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. I have no answer for you there.
POM. The same might apply to the other man in that picture.
IA. Yes but he was different.
POM. Mohammed Ali.
IA. He was the greatest heavyweight champion in the world and I watched him and he deserved that title. But you said this was a man who became a hero because he hid himself away.
POM. No not because he hid himself away.
IA. Twenty years before he disappeared from sight he was an enormous figure already.
POM. But do you see to Ali, to the millions in Africa it wasn't Ali as Ali had something, he was Ali. That was it. If you said the same kind of power to generate a mass response, their relationship to people, that had nothing to do with his boxing. Who else would pull out a silly little magician's joke and do it and have millions of people applaud whereas if somebody else did it they'd turn round and walk away.
IA. I think you'll have to spend some time trying to probe my memory but at this point unless somebody did a PRO job I don't have an explanation. I would love to know. I can understand with Winnie Mandela that the same way as Nelson Mandela she was isolated by the Mass Democratic Movement. It was Winnie Mandela alone long before Brandfort. Look for the number of ANC activists who went to visit her in Brandfort, no more than a handful. When she was facing trial in Johannesburg and could not get to Kimberley for the Women's League elections timeously she lost. At the next elections she went there a day earlier and swept the board. The rank and file believe in her.
. Nelson Mandela also. Show me a single honour which has been conferred on him by the ANC apart from the single one that he was awarded by the ANC and now the new one by government. Is there a building, is there a city? The Eastern Cape in which he was born and spent his childhood and his youth and has never been his home because his home is Johannesburg, that entire area, Port Elizabeth, East London is now called the Nelson Mandela Metropole. Johannesburg says to its greatest son, we name a theatre in the Civic Centre after you and we will now name an off-ramp on the highway into the city the Nelson Mandela Off-Ramp. Does that tell you a story of an organisation unable to cope with the greatest hero that they've ever got?
POM. What do you think it says about that organisation?
IA. I don't know, but it says something to me about the organisation. Does that show some kind of desperate insecurity? That you try so very hard to ignore the greatest resource that the world sees but the organisation in whose name he speaks ignores him at all possible cost. This great city where he spent 65 out of his 85 years, excluding the enforced exile, he went to prison from this city and he came back from prison into this city and all it can afford to do is to name one theatre in the Civic Theatre and now they're going to name an off-ramp on the highway after him. Neither one of these decisions were taken by the ANC. And he said nothing to them.
IA. Ask that question that why does the ANC's NEC so studiously ignore Nelson Mandela? And the answer will be: we do not name anything after a living leader. Then what is the Eastern Cape Metropole doing with the Nelson Mandela Metropole? And what is Pretoria doing with Nelson Mandela Drive? And what is Mafikeng doing with Nelson Mandela Drive?
POM. You've won me over.
IA. I asked the Mayor of the city, shouldn't this city be renamed Mandelaville? And he looked embarrassed.
POM. Are you talking about Masondo?
IA. Yes sir, I asked him that question.
POM. It's interesting. I actually brought him to the United States in 1992 with everyone else that's now a minister, minister of that and minister of the other. I bought Penuell Maduna a suit so he could do a TV show, he had such rags he couldn't appear in that. But one of the people that was there was Masondo.
IA. They had not been very important people. There have been many, many people who if they cannot achieve his aura would like to kill him, metaphorically. Not one has succeeded in even denting his reputation. It's not for lack of trying.
POM. This was back in the seventies when Masondo was released and Mac says he left jail - they had a lot to do with Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu.
IA. Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu enjoyed the highest degree of respect within the highest echelons of the ANC now and in the past, far higher than Nelson Mandela. But put Govan Mbeki's photograph outside the Eastern Cape, it's unknown. Put Walter Sisulu's face outside Johannesburg and it's not known. Put both of them into any country in Africa they will not be recognised. Put Nelson Mandela's face in the most obscure village in China and they will say 'South Africa'. Have you not thought about it?
POM. Of course I have.
IA. Isn't it interesting? I don't have the courage to ask the ANC, perhaps you have?
POM. Well I think in part it may have to do with the fact that after he went to jail there was an exile movement that grew up that didn't know him.
IA. Do you think so? Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu shared the same cell with him and they knew exactly who those two were and they put those two on a higher pedestal than Nelson Mandela.
POM. Maybe Mandela's propensity for saying, "I'm a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC", he has the arrogance of independence, that in the end he will do what he thinks is right, not what is mandated by a committee.
IA. You don't think that there was always a suspicion that he might do what he actually did, he delivered freedom by negotiation instead of by bazookas, without asking anybody's permission because he prefaced that delivery of freedom by saying, "I am a disciplined member of the ANC and I will be one until the day I die." And nobody believed him, that if he wasn't present and he had not negotiated the freedom SA would still be ruled by now, I would imagine, by the military and Constant Viljoen may have retired and somebody else might have taken his place. But certainly the army would have ruled and it would have been a much poorer place. I don't believe for one minute that a revolution in this country was possible by armed struggle for the very same reason that I have more faith in Crane Brinton's analysis. It put enormous pressure and I think it was necessary but it was not going to deliver freedom.
POM. One of the things I've gotten into with Mac is trying to get a picture of the intrigues that went on in Lusaka, the power struggles, not about who would be president of SA.
IA. There was no doubt it was going to be Oliver Tambo.
POM. But that was just for position and status and whatever and what emerges is that you had a struggle, an armed struggle that was run by MK without any actual knowledge of real combat, half trained, some of them, some of the most prominent would have had what was called 'kitchen' training. They went to a luxury dacha in Moscow and were briefed by a group of Generals about what military strategy was and that passed as training. It had no relationship to SA since they hadn't been in SA for years. It never advanced and they never understood just what you said, that an armed revolution was not possible for so many reasons that they didn't understand it. It almost reinforces the belief that they were living in some kind of fairy world of their own making.
IA. There was something more than that. My own impressions of Lusaka are very limited. My own impressions of ANC HQ are limited but I had a fairly good knowledge of what SA was like and a greater contrast I had not seen, of a modern industrial state here and a rather rustic, rural kind of approach in a back lane in Lusaka. I wondered how this would pan out but then I had a lot more faith in those who lived in London because they were in the same kind of environment that SA enjoyed. But if the struggle had to be limited to what was offered in Lusaka I think things may not have turned out this well. The influence of people who were based in the developed world I think was enormous. Some are still in government and some have left and moved on but I think they had a very powerful influence on what the world would be like in this country. But if it was just Lusaka, pretty rustic, and it still is.
POM. I found ANC HQ there in 1989 by going to the, I think it was one of those few international hotels there were there, going right to the bartender and saying, "Where is ANC HQ?" He said, "I'll get you a lift there in ten minutes." So are you talking primarily London?
IA. Because these were the only two places. I met some people in New York but, again, these were very urbane knowledgeable people. Lusaka, those who were stuck there, there were also the ANC camps in Tanzania, I've never been there but I've heard about them. Again, I don't think those camps would have prepared the ANC to govern SA eventually. They needed to be in an environment where they could slip comfortably into the SA environment and that did happen. The present President was one of those, he travelled extensively and knew the world as it stood. He had no difficulty in fitting into it. There were many others who had difficulty, I think, in coping.
POM. When they came back?
IA. It's the same kind of contrast that I found amongst those who were in prison with Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was with the others, with Sisulu and Mbeki and each one of the others and then he was taken out first to a hospital. He got better and they took him away from his colleagues and the SA government then started working on him and the insecurities set in. I would imagine that it started with his colleagues who had no idea why he was being isolated. That insecurity must have spread to the exile leadership. There were differences of opinion within prison and I understand primarily between Mandela and Mbeki, very deep differences. But as time went on Mandela became more and more a statesman and the others remained in a time warp and the reason to me seemed a simple one, Mandela's exposure to the outside world. Certainly in the later years he could see just about anybody and to visit Nelson Mandela wasn't a ten minute affair. You went there in the morning, you had tea, then you stayed for lunch, then you had afternoon tea and then you left at half past four and he wasn't doing all the talking, he was doing most of the listening. People went there to meet the great man and to hear his words of wisdom. All he did was to absorb all that they spoke about of their own experiences. It became very obvious that when he came out of prison he was again very different to his colleagues who had been let out at different times earlier.
. I don't know whether the SA government had identified him to be the new leader and they needed to prepare him and to give him exposure to very large numbers of people, or there was this grand plan, which I suspect, that he would be part of the new government with them.
POM. So they still persisted in believing that they could somehow co-opt him?
IA. I have no doubt that even FW de Klerk until shortly before the election believed that he would control SA and I mentioned to you earlier that Waldmeir wrote a book and she is the only journalist who spotted this, that FW thought that he would continue to rule for the foreseeable future in partnership with Buthelezi. By then it was too late to do anything with the ANC. Nobody expected the ANC to come back with that kind of majority. But I think the in prison years the idea was to split the ANC between nationalists and what they said were the communists.
. I must tell you something else, that I was very surprised when I heard FW de Klerk saying that he unbanned the Communist Party. I didn't expect it. I certainly expected the unbanning of the ANC but not the CP. There must have been a change of mind at some stage, either that the communists were not such a danger. You will recall that the revolution had already taken place in Russia so they might have realised that it's really not a danger any longer and that was the correct decision, but I was surprised, I didn't expect them to do that. If you look at media reports of that period it was really we've got to protect ourselves from the communists.
POM. De Klerk in his autobiography and certainly in interviews he has done with me and almost certainly in interviews he's done with others, he's always said that had the Berlin Wall not fallen nothing might have happened but the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the whole scenario as far as he was concerned, communism was no longer a threat. Not that he wouldn't use it to gain political advantage if he could but he no longer saw it as a threat its day was over.
IA. That might have been the catalyst.
POM. I still hear people arguing about communism, mostly former communists with communists.
IA. I am mildly amused by the communists remaining within the alliance. I admire their energy and hard work and intellectual pursuits but in terms of sheer numbers if, for instance, the ANC says they're dissolving partnership with the Communist Party and it then says we're now a political party and we're standing for elections, I think they'll be wiped out. They won't even feature. COSATU would be different. COSATU has a paid up membership but I'm not sure whether they would be able to stand as a political party. If the trade union represents your interests in the workplace it doesn't mean that your member will automatically vote for you to govern a country. So I think COSATU itself would not be wiped out but it would really be a third of the estimate, it really is not going to be a serious threat. So I continue to wonder whether this tripartite alliance is anything but a total co-option by the ANC of anybody who could possibly cause a little bit of a nuisance.
POM. I think that's been established by now. The history of parties, again it's an era that's come and gone and I suppose Britain would be the model of the Labour Party depending upon the trade unions as their base of support and their having special powers with regard to the appointments. Blair has kind of systematically, the decision to dissociate Labour from the trade union movement was one of the most important decisions they took. Blair has been cutting that knot as quickly as he can. Margaret Thatcher would be very proud of Tony Blair. She'd say, you know what? You're better than John Major.
IA. Absolutely. But again I have a difficulty in assuming that because a trade union predicts your interests in the workplace that you will automatically vote for that trade union to govern the country in which you live.
POM. Well that didn't happen in Britain.
IA. Well trade unions have never established themselves as political parties in Britain. That's what I mean. Because from time to time one hears of threat, never from the communists but certainly from COSATU from time to time that it will become a political party and will oppose the ANC. I think they'll get wiped out. As far as the CP is concerned it's a non-starter in this country I think.
POM. Maybe we should leave it at that and I will come better prepared.