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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Submission To The Truth And Reconciliation Commission By Mr F W De Klerk, Leader Of The National Party


This submission sets out the National Party's view of the historical context within which the conflicts of the past should be considered. It provides an analysis of the origin of the conflict; it deals with the perceptions that motivated Government policies; it analyses the ensuing conflict and the steps that the Government took, on the one hand to defend society against revolution and on the other to promote a peaceful solution to the complex problems that confronted us. It deals in some detail with issues such as amnesty, reconciliation, responsibility, the circumstances that necessitated unconventional strategies and the measures that we took to try to prevent abuses. The submission also sets out the National Party's views on the framework within which we believe the Commission should carry out is mandate.

It is not, however, the purpose of this submission to provide details of specific incidents that occurred during the conflict of the past. We understand that detailed submissions will be made in this regard by the former leadership of the South African Police and by the SANDF. Should the Commission have any particular requirements or queries the National Party will be happy to assist it in any way that we can.

I am acutely aware of the difficulty of establishing exactly what happened during past conflicts. The many judicial commissions that the former Government established during my Presidency experienced the same difficulty. Nevertheless, the National Party will do everything that it can to assist the Commission with its task.

Nature of the Commission's mandate

The 1993 Constitution identifies the need for "the people of South Africa to transcend the divisions and strife of the past, which generated gross violations of human rights, the transgression of humanitarian principles in violent conflicts and a legacy of hatred, fear, guilt and revenge."

The National Party accepts the need for a mechanism that can establish the truth about the conflict of the past and that can promote national reconciliation. It was for this reason that, during my Presidency, I appointed a number of commissions to investigate allegations relating to the conflict. These included the Commission on Public Violence (the Goldstone Commission) which I gave full scope and support to investigate allegations relating to the perpetration of violence by any party during the conflict. The National Party accordingly supported the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, notwithstanding its reservations about some aspects of the relevant legislation and the process that it established.

The 1993 constitution also requires that the conflicts of the past should be dealt with "on the basis that there is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimisation." It stipulates further that "amnesty shall be granted in respect of acts, omissions and offences associated with political objectives and committed in the course of the conflicts of the past."

It is essential for the success of the Commission that it should at all times bear in mind these points of departure and the overall objective of promoting reconciliation. It must, in particular, ensure that its deliberations are not exploited or manipulated for party-political gain. It must be scrupulously impartial in dealing with transgressions by all parties. It must also ensure that people who may be innocent of any wrong-doing are not publicly humiliated or subjected to trial by the media on the basis of untested allegations.

The Commission should also consider the elusive nature of "truth" in an historical or political context. Perceptions of what is true vary from time to time, from place to place and from party to party according to the affiliations and convictions of those involved. The Commission should bear this in mind when considering the motives and actions of those involved in the conflict of the past. It should also try to free itself of the preconceptions generated over the years by the vitriolic propaganda that was disseminated by all sides during the period of conflict.

Authorship of the submission

I am making this submission on behalf of the National Party, as its leader and as former State President. It relates primarily to my own presidency and to other occurrences of which I have personal knowledge. I cannot speak with the same authority with regard to developments that fall outside this framework. In this regard, I made an unsuccessful attempt to enlist the co-operation of by predecessor, Mr P W Botha. The submission was, however, prepared after discussions with the retired leadership of the South African Defence Force, the South African Police and former members of the Government during my Presidency. Although we are in substantial agreement on its contents, we also agreed that the SANDF and the retired leadership of the SAP should prepare separate submissions reflecting their respective areas of knowledge of the events of the past.

I must also stress that a distinction should be drawn between what have become known as the "old National Party" and the "New National Party". There is a profound difference between the National Party as it is presently constituted and the party that ruled South Africa for the first decades after its election victory in 1948. The policies and philosophy of the National Party as it is today are diametrically different from those of the old party. It also has a different support base. More than half of the people who voted for the National Party in the last election were black, coloured or Indian South Africans. Neither they, nor our younger white supporters, can or should be associated in any way with the apartheid policies of the past.

The recent history of the National Party can be divided into four distinct periods:

. the first period of rigid apartheid, between 1948 and 1960, which was characterised by the adoption of comprehensive segregation and security legislation and by the campaign for the establishment of a republic;

. the second period of apartheid - or separate development - between 1960 and 1978, during which the Government attempted to achieve a constitutional settlement through the establishment and development of black national states and also during which South Africa experienced growing international isolation;

. the period of reform between 1978 and 1990, during which most of the revolutionary conflict took place, much of the apartheid system was dismantled, the electoral base was broadened, and negotiations were initiated;

. the transformation period since 2 February 1990, during which the National Party took the decision to initiate inclusive constitutional negotiations; the political situation in South Africa was normalised; and the remaining apartheid legislation was repealed. During this period the National Party reconstituted itself, opened its membership to South Africans of all races and took its place as one of the New South Africa's fully multi-racial and democratic parties.

A distinction should also be made between the various National Party administrations between 1948 and 1994. For example, my administration and that of my predecessor belonged to the reform and transformation periods of the National Party. In my opinion it is quite incorrect to refer to our administrations as the "apartheid Government". We were primarily concerned with the dismantling of apartheid, the defence of the country against revolution and the search for workable democratic alternatives that would accommodate the political aspirations of all South Africans.

I retain my deep respect for our former leaders. Within the context of their time, circumstances and convictions they were good and honourable men - although history has subsequently shown that, as far as the policy of apartheid was concerned, they were deeply mistaken in the course upon which they embarked. In particular, I should like to place on record the role played by my predecessor, President P W Botha, in initiating the process of change that ultimately led to the peaceful transformation of our society.

My own father was a Cabinet Minister under three Prime Ministers and my aunt was married to a Prime Minister of South Africa. I myself have always been a loyal supporter of the National Party. I supported its policies in the period before 1978, when I believed that they could bring about a just constitutional solution for all South Africans. Subsequently, during the reform period my colleagues and I worked for the transformation of the party; we dismantled apartheid; we defended South Africa against those who planned to seize power by violent and unconstitutional means; and we played a leading role in the establishment of the New South Africa. Now as supporters of the new National Party we are enthusiastic participants in the non-racial democracy that we helped to create.

I will endeavour, in this submission, to explain how this transformation occurred.

Historical context

Three hundred and forty-four years ago Europeans first settled at the Cape of Good Hope. They came for a variety of reasons: many as employees of the Dutch East India Company; some as farmers and merchants; and many, including my own ancestors, to escape from religious persecution.

During the next century they trekked further and further away from the Cape, leaving scattered villages - such as Stellenbosch, Paarl, Swellendam and Graaff Reinet in their wake. They were pastoral people who felt uncomfortable if they could see the smoke from their neighbour's farm. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that they soon developed a sense of hardy independence and resentment for far-away and ineffective authority - whether that authority was the Dutch East India Company or the British, who first arrived in the Cape two hundred years ago.

At some stage they began to refer to themselves as "Afrikaners". They no longer saw themselves primarily as Europeans in an alien continent - but as a people of Africa, as white Africans - a people with its own emerging identity, its own increasingly distinct language and its own sense of destiny. They wanted political freedom, just as they had formerly struggled for religious freedom.

It was primarily these factors that led the Voortrekkers to leave the settled valleys of the Cape in the 1830's and to establish their own republics in the hinterland - in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. It was their determination to rule themselves that involved them in a number of internal wars and subsequently led them, in two bitter war, to resist the expansion of the British Empire. However, it should be emphasised that in none of these wars were they the aggressors.

These people - my forebears - understood oppression. During their freedom struggle their homes were burned, their country was devastated and more than 20 000 of their women and children died in concentration camps.

They understood resistance. They withstood British attempts to anglicise their people and to strip them of their culture. They spent the first decades of this century in further developing and entrenching their own language, Afrikaans, and their own cultural identity.

They also experienced poverty and deprivation. The drought and depression of the 'thirties forced many Afrikaners to leave their farms and migrate to the cities where they earned a place for themselves in the national economy.

These are the traditions that we were taught as children. We were taught to revere heroes such as Piet Retief and Dirkie Uys, such as Paul Kruger and Christiaan de Wet. The collective memories that we inherited were of the Covenant of Blood River; the oath that was taken at Paardekraal to regain our independence from the British; our victory at Majuba and the bitterness of our defeat in the Anglo-Boer War in 1902.

The history of the first half of this century, with which we grew up, was dominated by the conflict and tension between "Boer and Brit". For us, in the National Party, the key issue at that time was the campaign to establish a republic. The quest for the restoration of our right to self-determination in our own republic was, on the whole, pursued in a peaceful and constitutional manner - with a few exceptions, such as the 1914 rebellion and the activities of the Ossewa Brandwag. However, the National Party did not subscribe to these activities and since its foundation in 1914 consistently rejected violence as a means to achieve political and constitutional change.

The National Party's main opponents were the "Sappe", the followers of Gen Smuts's United Party who favoured close relations with Britain. Most South Africans of British descent supported the United Party. In general, they also supported the segregation policies and political traditions that had been inherited from the British colonial administrations. They were also opposed to policies that would lead to Black domination, but rejected the National Party's rigid implementation of apartheid. The great majority of United Party members were in favour of remaining within the Commonwealth and were opposed to the establishment of a republic.

It was issues such as these that were at the forefront of the political debate between 1910 and 1960. It was only in the second half of this century that the complex relationship between Black and White South Africans, really began to dominate the constitutional debate.

We are all the children of our times and the product of the cultural and political circumstances into which we were born and with which we grew up.

Deplorable as it now may seem, until the middle of the century hardly anyone in the European-dominated world considered that the indigenous peoples of the far-flung colonial empires were ready to rule themselves. The attitude of most "Europeans" - as they were called - inside and outside South Africa was, at best, paternalistic. In South Africa, by the early 'fifties, the strict racial segregation that we had inherited from the past, had been firmly institutionalised. The more daring liberals advocated a qualified franchise for "educated natives". But nowhere did anyone seriously entertain the idea that the majority should rule through a process of universal franchise - nobody, of course, except for the emerging black leadership in the ANC and the Congress Movement - who at that time were dismissed as "communist agitators".

It should be remembered that this was also the situation in much of colonial Africa at that time. In the southern states of the United States the colour bar was still firmly in place. Few political weathermen at the beginning of the '50s forecast the coming winds of change.

However, in the fifteen years between 1955 and 1970 most of the countries of Africa were granted independence. The receding empires left the whites of South Africa increasingly isolated and out of step with the rest of humanity. Racial discrimination and/or paternalism - which had been the general rule throughout the European empires - were now universally - and quite correctly - condemned. During the Anglo-Boer War Afrikaner nationalism had been widely admired throughout Europe and in the United States. However, in the climate of non-racialism, anti-colonialism and universalism that dominated global thinking in the wake of the Second World War, the concept of nationalism in general was in disrepute. As far as international opinion was concerned, the right to self-determination in Africa was associated only with black Africans.

This was the situation that confronted young members of the National Party at the beginning of the 'sixties. The issues that we debated deep into the night centred on the question of how we could come to grips with this changing world on the one hand, and yet retain our right to our own national self-determination on the other? How would we avoid the chaos that was sweeping much of the rest of Africa - that was depicted in horrific photographs of refugees fleeing from the Congo or Angola - and yet ensure justice and full political rights for Black South Africans? How could we defend ourselves against expansionist international communism and terrorism and yet make all South Africans free?

The solution that we then came up with was "separate development".

We thought that we could solve the complex problems that confronted us by giving each of the ten distinguishable Black South African nations self-government and independence within the core areas that they had traditionally occupied. In this way we would create a commonwealth of South African states - each independent, but all co-operating on a confederal basis with one another within an economic common market.

The underlying principle of territorial partition to assure self-determination for different peoples living in a common area was widely accepted. It was inter alia the basis for the creation of the nation states that emerged from the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, and for modern Pakistan and India after the Second World War.

Although we were primarily concerned with maintaining our own right to self-determination, it would be a mistake to think that there was not a strong element of idealism in this vision. A number of new cities were built in the states that had been had identified. Ten Legislative Assemblies came into being, each with its own government buildings and bureaucracy. In some instances the infrastructure was quite impressive.

Several modern universities were founded - which were formerly dismissed as "tribal colleges" - but which are now accepted as fully fledged universities. By 1975 some 77 new towns had been established and 130 204 new houses had been built. Between 1952 and 1972 the number of hospital beds in the homelands increased from some 5 000 to 34 689. Decentralised industries were developed and hundreds of millions of rands were pumped into the traditional areas in an attempt to stem the flood of people to the supposedly "white" cities.

It was thought that in this manner it would be possible to accommodate the political and constitutional aspirations of Black South Africans. By the late 'seventies it was also accepted that territorial partition was impossible in respect of Coloured and Indian South Africans. They were politically sidelined in the years of rigid apartheid and, in the case of the Coloureds, removed from the Common Voters Role. Their representation in specially created councils with little authority or power, could not continue.

The President's Council was established to look into this and other constitutional questions. Their recommendations ultimately led to the adoption of the tricameral constitution in 1983 in terms of which White, Coloured and Indian South Africans were given the opportunity of electing their own houses of Parliament and of administering their "own affairs", while power was shared with regard to matters of common interest.

Even this concept was, however, too much for some members of the National Party to accept. In February 1982 twenty-two members of the NP caucus, under the leadership of Dr Andries Treurnicht, left the party and founded the Conservative Party. Their departure was an indication of the degree to which the National Party, even by that stage, had started to move away from orthodox apartheid.

Despite considerable efforts to develop the homelands, the flood of black emigration to the "white" cities continued unabated. According to the theorists, the tide should have turned by 1978 - after which the supposedly "white areas" would have had a substantial white majority.

Of course, this did not happen.

The homelands were too small, too poor and economically too unattractive, to provide a decent livelihood for all their citizens. It was also evident that the great majority of black South Africans totally rejected the concept of separate development. Led by the ANC, and its internal structures, they insisted on full citizenship in an undivided non-racial democracy. This situation was further exacerbated when six of the ten homelands - and most notably KwaZulu under the leadership of Dr Buthelezi - flatly refused to accept independence from South Africa.

This rejection of independence was one of the main factors that led to the hardly noticed announcement by President P W Botha in the "Rubicon" speech of 15 August 1985 that

"Should any of the black National States therefore prefer not to accept independence, such states or communities will remain part of the South African nation, are South African citizens and should be accommodated within the political institutions within the boundaries of South Africa"

This announcement, in effect, sounded the death knell for the concept of separate development and set the Government on the road that ultimately led to the transformation of our society.

This new direction was formally endorsed and given strong impetus at the 1986 congress of the National Party which accepted "one citizenship for all South Africans" and the implication that " any discrimination on the ground of colour, race and cultural affiliation or religion" would have to be eliminated. However, the Party still believed that political rights should be exercised on a group basis. One of the points of departure for its 1987 programme of action was the continued protection of group rights: "This must be done on the basis of the maximum degree of self-determination for each group, and joint responsibility on matters of common interest, in such a way that the domination of one group over others be eliminated." During the national elections of 1987 the National Party sought, and was granted, a mandate by the electorate to pursue and implement such a constitutional programme.

Thus, by the middle 'eighties the Government had begun to take the first steps in the search for constitutional settlement that would fully include Black, Brown and Indian South Africans. The policy of separate development had clearly failed. Instead of providing a just and workable solution, it had led to hardship, suffering and humiliation - to institutionalised discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity. Instead of promoting peaceful inter-group relations, it had precipitated a cycle of wide-spread resistance and repression in which unacceptable actions were committed by all sides. Instead of providing a solution, it had led to injustice, growing international isolation and to the escalation of the conflict that had been smouldering since the early 'sixties.

Nature of the conflict

The conflict that South Africa experienced between 1960 and 1994 had a number of dimensions:

One dimension was the conflict between (mainly) Afrikaner nationalism and African nationalism.

Many of those who took part in the struggle from the side of the Government, especially most of the Afrikaners, believed, to start with, that they were defending the right of their people to national self-determination in their own state within a territorially partitioned South Africa. They believed that their actions were in line, not only with the traditions of their forefathers, but also with the universally accepted principle that nations were entitled to defend their right to self-determination in a country of their own. As the impracticality of this vision for the Afrikaner nation became more and more evident during the 'eighties its importance as a motivating factor diminished for most Afrikaans members of the National Party until it was finally abandoned. It nevertheless remains, to this day, the ideal of a significant proportion of Afrikaners who support the Freedom Front, the Conservative Party and various right-wing organisations. The demand by these political groups for Afrikaner self-determination in a country of their own provides the context for many of the incidents that occurred in the conflict up until the inauguration of the Government of National Unity on 10 May 1994.

On the other hand, those who opposed the Government had a diametrically different perception of the nature of the South African nation. In their view neither the Afrikaners nor the Whites were separate nations, but minorities within a broader South African nation. For them, self-determination meant one-man, one-vote in an undivided South Africa.

Another dimension of the conflict was the struggle between various Black political movements and groupings.

Those who were united in their rejection of apartheid at times fundamentally disagreed on how it should be opposed. The two main schools of thought were those who favoured violent and revolutionary strategies and those who preferred to work for change within the system.

These disagreements led first to tension and then conflict between the protagonists of these conflicting approaches.

Most notably it resulted in a protracted violent conflict between the ANC and the IFP and in the murder to many Black political and community leaders. Some of this continues to this day.

Another important dimension of the conflict was South Africa's involvement in the global ideological struggle between the West and expansionist Soviet Communism.

Those who fought on the side of the Government believed that they were defending their country against what they perceived to be the aggressive expansion of Soviet communism. They had ample reason to believe this. The Sixth Congress of the Communist International had resolved, as early as 1928, that

"The CPSA ( Communist Party of South Africa ) should pay particular attention to the ANC. Our aim should be to transform the ANC into a fighting nationalist revolutionary organisation."

From the 'sixties onwards, the ANC received substantial aid from the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. It was closely allied to - some would say dominated by - the South African Communist Party. The SACP was, in turn, one of the most Stalinist and pro-Soviet parties in the world. Among other actions, it had enthusiastically supported the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. The Soviet threat was not simply McCarthyite paranoia on the part of the South African Government. The reality was that SACP members held dominant positions within the ANC's National Executive Committee and that Soviet surrogate forces had established strong positions in a number of Southern African countries, particularly in Angola. In September 1987 Soviet and Cuban-led MPLA forces clashed with UNITA and SADF forces at the Lomba River in southern Angola in what was probably the largest set-piece battle in the continent since the Battle of El Alemein.

The SACP's agenda was to use its position in the ANC-led alliance to promote a two-phase revolution. According to a policy document produced by the SACP politburo in May 1986

"… the immediate attainment of the socialist revolution is not on the agenda. This does not mean that we are putting it off but, to quote Lenin's words, we 'are taking the first steps towards it in the only possible way, along the only correct path, namely the path of a democratic republic.'"

The perception of those on the side of the Government was accordingly that the installation of an ANC Government would lead to Communist domination. They believed that in conducting their struggle against the ANC, they were playing an important role in the West's global resistance to the expansion of Soviet Communism.

On the other hand, those who fought against the Government were often equally convinced that they were fighting against a bastion of capitalism and imperialism.

Finally, there was a dimension to the conflict that related to the defence of the State and the maintenance of law and order.

Many of those who fought on the side of the security forces, particularly national servicemen and reservists, often did so without any specific ideological or party-political motive. They believed that it was their duty to carry out the instructions of a legally constituted and internationally recognised government. They also believed that they had an underlying and non-party-political responsibility to uphold the law and to protect the lives and property of citizens.

Millions of South Africans who opposed apartheid also condemned the use of violence to achieve political objectives. Newspapers in South Africa which were strenuous opponents of apartheid often supported cross-border actions by the security forces in cases where perpetrators sought refuge in neighbouring states after murdering civilians in South Africa.

The great majority of those who served in the security forces during the conflict were honourable, professional and dedicated men and women. They were convinced that their cause was just, necessary and legitimate.

The conflict escalated from 1960 onwards, after the ANC decided to opt for an armed struggle. It is doubtful whether this decision hastened the transformation process. It can be argued that socio-economic forces had already begun to change South Africa and that non-violent pressure and resistance would have been far more effective vehicles for change. Be that as it may, the ANC's armed struggle inevitably contributed to a major escalation in the general violence that has plagued South Africa ever since.

In the perception of those on the Government side, the ANC and its allies were committed to the revolutionary seizure of power and not to peaceful and negotiated reform. For example, one of the documents submitted during the Rivonia trial in 1964 read as follows:

"The people of South Africa, led by the South African Communist Party, will destroy capitalist society and build in its place socialism… The transition from capitalism to socialism and the liberation of the working class from the yoke cannot be effected by slow changes or by reforms as reactionaries and liberals often advise, but by revolution. One must therefore be a revolutionary and not a reformist."

At its National Consultative Conference in June 1985 the ANC recommitted itself to a Peoples War "in which a liberation army becomes rooted amongst the people who progressively participate actively in the armed struggle both politically and militarily…" Such a struggle would "lead inevitably to a revolutionary situation in which our plan and aim must be the seizure of power through a general insurrection."

Between September 1984 and May 1986 the ANC's revolutionary strategy had the following results:

. 3 477 homes, owned or occupied by Black South Africans, were destroyed or badly damaged;

. 1 220 black schools were destroyed or badly damaged;

. black education and local authorities were seriously disrupted;

. 573 people were killed in black-on-black violence, including 295 people who were burned to death by the necklace method.

The ANC's offensive against the Government was supported by an international campaign of unprecedented proportions. This campaign was centred in the United Nations and its agencies and was orchestrated by the ANC, its Soviet allies and by international anti-apartheid movements. At one stage, there were no fewer than 15 UN committees and organs that were solely or primarily dedicated to the struggle against South Africa. The international campaign affected every aspect of South Africa's international relations and ultimately led to the imposition of arms, oil, sport, cultural, economic and financial sanctions against South Africa. The objectives of this campaign included an unprecedented international propaganda offensive, the isolation of South Africa through the imposition of comprehensive sanctions, support for the "armed struggle" and the ultimate overthrow of the South African Government.

The then Government believed that it was being confronted by a "total onslaught". Its response was to develop its own "total strategy". The need for such a total strategy was identified in a Government White Paper on Defence in 1977 in the following terms;

"The process of ensuring and maintaining the sovereignty of a state's authority in a conflict situation has, through the evolution of warfare, shifted from the purely military to an integrated national action….. the resolution of conflict in the times in which we now live demands interdependent and co-ordinated action in all fields - military, psychological, economic, political, sociological, technological, diplomatic, ideological, cultural etc."

The vehicle that the Government established to implement its total strategy and to co-ordinate the activities of all branches of the Government in response to what it viewed as the "total onslaught" was the National Management System. The National Management System comprised the National Security Management System (NSMS) and the National Welfare Management System (NWMS). Responsibility for the NSMS rested with the State Security Council, which was established in June, 1972. The NSMS also included:

. a Working Committee comprising the heads of "security" departments:

. a Secretariat,

. Interdepartmental Committees, aimed at the co-ordination of the planning and implementation of policies at the national level,

. Joint Management Centres (JMCs), sub-divided into Sub- and Mini- JMCs, which operated at the regional and local levels and which were responsible for the co-ordination of the actions of departments and other organisations in the implementation of policies approved at the national level.

The prime purpose of the NMS was to ensure that all branches of government responded in a co-ordinated manner to the revolutionary threat. It was accepted that this threat could not be effectively - or even primarily - countered by military or security action. The main accent should instead fall on the provision of effective government and social services and in promoting inclusive constitutional solutions. This inevitably led to the politicisation of the role of the security forces and to their involvement in civilian administration.

It was the view of the Government that orderly constitutional transformation could not take place in a climate of general violence and insurrection. Thus, the National State of Emergency that the Government declared on 12 June 1986 had as its declared aims:

. the restoration of law and order and security;

. a return to normality in the unrest-ravaged Black residential areas; and

. the creation of a climate in which constitutional change can take place."

The State of Emergency had, by 1988, succeeded to a reasonable extent in achieving most of these objectives. It restored a more acceptable level of law, order and security in most parts of the country; it helped to re-establish some degree of normality in most Black residential areas and it significantly contributed to the creation of a climate in which genuine and workable negotiations could take place.

However, far reaching Security Legislation and the State of Emergency, with the suspension of many normal legal protective measures, also created circumstances and an atmosphere which were conducive to many of the abuses and transgressions against human rights which form the basis of the Commission's present investigations.

Unconventional actions and reactions

It was not only the strict Security Legislation and the State of Emergency which created an atmosphere conducive to abuses and transgressions. The unconventional nature of the revolutionary thread created circumstances in which conventional responses proved to be lest and lest effective. The revolutionary strategies adopted by the Government's opponents blurred traditional distinctions between combatants and non-combatants; between legitimate and illegitimate targets; and between acceptable and unacceptable methods.

The normal processes of law - and even the government's tough security measures - seemed incapable of dealing with this situation. Members of the security forces watched, with increasing frustration, while revolutionary movements organised, mobilised and intimidated or killed their opponents, seemingly at will. The security forces were expected to play by the rules while their opponents could, and did, use any methods that they liked. There was a perceived need for unconventional counter-strategies of the kind developed by the British and others in successful campaigns against insurgency and terrorism. Consequently, the then Government began to make use of unconventional strategies which, of necessity, had to be planned and implemented on a "need to know" basis.

In dealing with the unconventional strategies from the side of the Government I want to make it clear from the outset that, within my knowledge and experience, they never included the authorisation of assassination, murder, torture, rape, assault or the like. I have never been part of any decision taken by Cabinet, the State Security Council or any Committee authorising or instructing the commission of such gross violations of human rights. Nor did I individually directly or indirectly ever suggest, order or authorise any such action.

I have been involved as State President in the legally required authorisation of cross border actions aimed at legitimate military targets on the bases of cross-checked intelligence information. Such authorisation specifically excluded attacks on civilians and limited the use of violence to the minimum required under prevailing circumstances.

I feel in duty bound to also place on record that the above statement with regard to my position, is also a reflection of the viewpoint of my colleagues who sat with me in Cabinet, the State Security Council or Cabinet Committees.

I suggest that the Commission examine the minutes of the Cabinet and the State Security Council in this regard. Procedures are available to obtain permission from the Government to do so and a full set of such minutes have been lodged with the State Archives.

The type of unconventional actions which were approved, in principle, by the Cabinet and State Security Council related to such issues as information gathering, disinformation and assistance to outside organisations opposed to the revolutionary forces. These matters are not the subject matter of the Commission's terms of reference and I will therefore refrain from dealing with them in detail. Suffice it to say that none of these unconventional projects was intended to lead to any gross violation of human rights. It can, however, be argued that they did create an atmosphere conducive to abuses.

The Security Forces had to operate increasingly within a framework of states of emergency, far-reaching security legislation, underground activities and unconventional strategies. They had to give operational interpretation to broadly framed decisions, aimed at firm and effective action against the insurgency.

These circumstances created the environment within which abuses and gross violations of human rights could take place. However, it would be a serious mistake to adopt a simplistic approach in judging such abuses and violations. Clear distinctions should be drawn between varying situations:

. In many cases it would be possible to conclude that the perpetrators of certain actions were bona fide in their interpretation of orders and strategies - that they believed they were acting correctly and with authority.

. In other cases it would be possible to make a finding that the bona fides of those involved was clouded by bad judgement, over-zealousness or negligence.

. And yet in other cases there is no doubt that there was mala fides which led to abuses, malpractice and serious violations of human rights.

During the latter years of the conflict, and more specifically during my presidency, another factor came to the fore. The fundamental change of direction that I initiated, which involved the opening of negotiations, the termination of secret operations and the lifting of the State of Emergency (which is dealt with in more detail below), were not supported by some elements in the Security Forces. My colleagues and I were accused along the grapevine of being "soft" and of being traitors. I suspect that many of the unauthorised actions, that are now coming to light, were at time directed as much against the transformation process as they were directed against the revolutionary threat. It has now become clear that certain elements misused state funds and were involved in unauthorised operations leading to abuses and violation of human rights.

The nature and extent of many of these abuses have since been uncovered by various commissions of enquiry - and particularly the Goldstone Commission - by the media, by the courts and by many of the perpetrators and now by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is not my purpose here to try to find excuses for these abuses but to explain the historic context within which they occurred.

It is important that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should continue to investigate all serious abuses perpetrated by all sides in the conflict. Abuses committed by the Security Forces have been widely publicised and are receiving extensive attention from the Commission, from the Attorneys-General and from the Courts. Insufficient attention has, however, been focused on the instigators and perpetrators of the following incidents:

. 541 "necklacings" that occurred between 1 September 1984 and
31 March 1993 in which 505 people were killed and 36 injured in the most brutal and inhumane manner imaginable;

. 57 landmine attacks that occurred between 26 November 1985 and 21 February 1991 in which 25 people were killed and 76 injured;

. 487 limpet mine attacks in which 22 people were killed and 373 injured;

. 10 car bomb attacks in which 40 people were killed and 548 injured;

. attacks on members of the South African Police, which resulted in the deaths of 1030 policemen between 1973 and 1993. Many of these deaths can be ascribed directly or indirectly to the actions of the ANC and its allies; and

. the attacks on the thousands of black South Africans - most of them equally opposed to apartheid - who were murdered, injured or intimidated because they chose to work for change within existing government institutions.

In addition, the Commission should investigate serious human rights violations which occurred in ANC detention centres in Southern Africa. These abuses have been the subject of a number of investigations including those conducted by the Stuart Commission, the Skweyiya Commission, the Motsuenyane Commission and the Douglas Commission.

The Commission must also ensure that, in its consideration of applications for amnesty, it adheres strictly to the requirements of the 1993 constitution and to the precedent already established by the extension of indemnity to large numbers of people in terms of the Further Indemnity Act. In this regard, it should be borne in mind that the great majority of such indemnities were granted to supporters of revolutionary movements, that many of them had committed and had been convicted of heinous and disproportional crimes and that their release was part of the price demanded by the ANC in September 1992 for returning to the negotiating table.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations 18 997 people died as a result of political violence between September 1984 and December 1993. The scope of the human suffering involved in this statistic is difficult to conceive. All South Africans must be truly grateful that the parties involved in the conflict were able to resolve their differences and antipathies through peaceful negotiations. By so-doing they were able to draw the country back from the brink of a general war that might well have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

The nature of the transformation

By the end of the1980's it had become evident that the only possible solution to the constitutional impasse lay in negotiations between all South Africa's major parties, aimed at the establishment of a fully-inclusive non-racial democracy. This was a difficult and far-reaching decision for those in power - and especially for Afrikaner nationalists:

. It meant that they would have to give up the right to full self-determination in parts of the country that they also considered to be theirs, for which they, as a small people, had struggled for hundreds of years. No other nation in the world has ever voluntarily made such a decision. Nonetheless a majority of White South Africans did so.

. It meant that instead of putting their faith in their own institutions and in their own ability to defend themselves, they now had to put their trust in negotiated constitutional agreements. They did so in a continent that was not renowned for the success of its constitutional experiments.

. It meant that they would have to reach agreement with parties that they had little reason to trust. The SACP had, for example, made it clear that it viewed negotiations simply as the first strategic step in a two-phase revolution which would culminate in the establishment of a communist state.

The negotiations were often on the point of breaking down. It is hard to imagine, at the start of the process, parties that were further apart than the National Party, the IFP and the ANC. All of the parties involved saw one another - not as they really were - but as the stereotypes depicted by their own propaganda.

Nevertheless, in December 1993, basic agreement on the new Transitional Constitution was reached, despite the numerous crises, boycotts and walk-outs that we experienced during the process.

There is a tendency now for some parties to claim a monopoly of the credit for the transformation process. There were, in fact, many different forces at play. Among these were, of course, the revolutionary movements themselves. It would be wrong to minimise in any way the major contribution made by revolutionary movements such as the ANC, or the individual sacrifices of many of its members in the pursuit of their goal of national liberation. This in not my intention. There were, however, other important factors and forces involved in the liberation process. They include:

The transformation of the National Party.

From as early as 1978 the National Party began with its own tentative process of reform - starting with the important labour reforms that emerged from the recommendations of the Wiehahn Commission. This culminated in unrestrained freedom of labour organisation and association and the abolition of all racial discrimination in labour relations.

With the establishment of the President's Council in 1978, the National Party also began to move towards the broadening of democracy. By 1983 it had, in terms of the Republic of South Africa Constitution Act, no 110 of 1983, extended the franchise to the Coloured and Indian communities.

By the end of 1986 it had repealed some 100 discriminatory laws, including many laws such as the Pass Laws that had constituted cornerstones of the policy of apartheid. These included:

. the repeal of the prohibition of mixed marriages and of sexual intercourse across the colour bar;

. the repeal of the prohibition against mixed political parties;

. the abolition of race restrictions in immigration law;

. the ending of all compulsory resettlements;

. the elimination of many statutory racial barriers in respect of publicly and privately controlled recreational facilities;

. the institution of uniform income tax laws for all population groups;

. the granting of full freedom of movement to all population groups;

. the recognition of the right to full ownership of immovable property in Black townships; and

. the conversion of 99-year leaseholds to full ownership.

By 1987 the National Party Government had established fully representative black local authorities. In 1988 nation-wide elections were held for black local authorities. 26% of registered voters participated in the elections, despite intimidation and strong opposition from the ANC and its allies. Many of the councillors who were elected were subsequently tragically murdered or forced from office through threats to their lives, families and homes.

After I became State President in 1989 I took the following steps to further normalise the political situation in South Africa:

. On 2 February 1990 I made announcements that opened the road to inclusive constitutional negotiations. These announcements included the unbanning of the ANC, the SACP and other organisations and the release of prisoners, including Mr Mandela.

. During the following months and years the Government repealed all the remaining "apartheid era" laws, including the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, the Development of Black Communities Act and the Land Acts.

. The National Party subsequently played a leading and indispensable role in the negotiations and the transformation process that led to the establishment of the new South Africa. It was the only major party that did not at some time or other walk out of the talks.

. I also took steps to normalise and regularise the activities of the security forces (further details of my actions in this regard are set out below).

The role of opponents of apartheid who worked within the system.

There were many South Africans, inside and outside Parliament who believed that apartheid could best be dismantled by peaceful and constitutional means. They undoubtedly made a major contribution. In particular, the refusal of six of the national states - and especially KwaZulu - to accept independence was one of the key factors that ultimately persuaded the National Party Government of the failure of its overall policy.

The collapse of global communism in 1989

The collapse of global communism in 1989 removed the major strategic concern that had dominated the thinking of the previous successive governments for decades and greatly facilitated negotiations with the ANC.

The role of the international community.

Sanctions imposed against South Africa by the international community were undoubtedly a factor in the process of change. However, more often than not, they served to retard reform rather than stimulate it. The Government was always more inclined to listen to the advice of countries that maintained contact with it than those who sought to isolate South Africa. For example, the decision of Malawi to send black diplomats to Pretoria was far more effective in exposing the logical and logistical absurdities of apartheid than any number of resolutions by the United Nations. Throughout the negotiation process all sides received strong encouragement from the international community to persevere in their difficult attempts to reach peaceful accommodation.

The role of socio-economic forces.

During the twenty-five years between 1970 and 1995 there were dramatic - but largely unpublicised - shifts in socio-economic relationships in South Africa which led to the de facto and ultimately to the de jure transformation of South Africa:

. Influx control was abolished by the reality of millions of people migrating to the cities, long before the relevant legislation was repealed by Parliament.

. The Group Areas Act was abolished de facto by the reality that thousands of Black, Coloured and Indian South Africans had peacefully moved into supposedly white areas.

. The Separate Amenities legislation was doomed from the moment that young people with the same qualifications from all population groups began working side by side in banks, shops and factories.

There is nothing new in this. Much of history has been the story of how changing economic relationships have led to changed social relationships. Ultimately these changed relationships have placed irresistible pressure on antiquated constitutional relationships and have led to the emergence of democratic societies.

According to the propaganda of our opponents, the years of National Party Government were characterised by the unbridled exploitation of black South Africans by whites.

The fact is that between 1948 and 1994 there were major socio-economic developments in South Africa, many of them originating from Government initiatives from which Black South Africans, in particular, benefited enormously:

. Despite widespread criticism of the education policies of the former government, the proportion of the total black population attending school rose from 8,05% in 1950 to 19,8% in 1975.

. By 1993/94 expenditure on education had risen to R27,26 billion. This accounted for 21,4% of the budget and 7,3% of GDP - one of the highest figures in the world. 74% of the school budget was allocated to Coloured, Indian and Black schools.

. Between 1989 and 1993 black university enrolment increased by 47%. By 1993 Black, Coloured and Asian students represented an estimated 54% of all enrolments - compared with 54% for Whites. There were 41 342 Black Technicon students and 41 343 trainee teachers. Despite the disruption of black education and despite the low pass rates, more than 150 000 Black scholars passed matric in 1992, compared with 64 000 Whites.

. During the period between 1970 and 1995 the black share of personal income increased from 19,8% to a projected 37,3%, while the white share fell during the same period from 71.1% to a projected 48,5%.

. By the early 'nineties there were an estimated 625 000 small businesses in the black informal sector of the economy. According to some reports, the sector had created about 3,5 million jobs, of which almost 500 000 had the potential of being transferred to the formal sector.

. During the last years of National Party Government rule genuine and serious efforts were made to remove racial differentials in all spheres. We equalised the salaries of all state officials. By 1993 old-age pensioners of all races were receiving equal pensions.

. According to a study by the International Monetary Fund in January 1992, White South Africans in 1987 paid an average of 32,03% of their incomes in tax, but received only 9% back in benefits.

In May 1994 the Government of National Unity inherited a country with an excellent infrastructure and well-established financial, industrial, agricultural, mining and service sectors.

Between 1948 and 1993 South Africa's Gross Domestic Product increased by an average of 3,5% per annum in real terms. By 1994 South Africa was the only country in Africa with a fully developed modern sector.

These facts are not stated to justify apartheid. However, it is a fallacy to blame the policies of the past for everything which is wrong in present day South Africa. Much more could have been achieved, had it not been for apartheid; the revolutionary actions of the ANC and others; and the resulting distortions imposed on our economy.

Concluding remarks

Against this background a number of pertinent issues need to be dealt with, within the context of the views set out in this submission, relating to the origins and nature of this conflict:

1. Responsibility

I believe that the Commission needs to develop guidelines in respect of the attribution of responsibility to the various role-players in the conflict.

Obviously there rests an overall responsibility on the leadership of the various parties, organisations and institutions which were part of the conflict. I accept such overall responsibility in respect of the period of my leadership. However, when it comes to specific incidents, occurrences, deeds and transgressions it will be necessary to apply specific guidelines.

As far as the State is concerned, I submit that the following guidelines would be realistic, fair and equitable:

Responsibility should be attributed

. to Cabinet for all decisions which it took and the instructions that it issued, including all authorised actions and operations executed in terms of a reasonable interpretation of such instructions;

. to the State Security Council on the same basis applicable to Cabinet, as set out above;

. to individual ministers for all decisions taken by them personally in their ministerial capacity, including all authorised actions and operations executed in terms of a reasonable interpretation of instructions issued by them in the process;

. to the commanding officers attached to the security forces on the same basis applicable to individual ministers, as set out above.

I furthermore submit that these guidelines could, mutatis mutandis, be applied to other parties, organisations or institutions.

2. Preventative measures

The question may justifiably be asked whether the Government, during the period that I was State President, exercised adequate control and took appropriate action to prevent abuses - especially after public allegations had persistently been made concerning so-called "third force" activities. In response, I can provide the following list of some of the steps that were taken in this regard and also in pursuance of the normalisation of security force operations:

. Soon after my inauguration I gave instructions for the investigation of all secret and covert operations of the security forces with a view to their possible termination. By March 1990 a number of such operations had been phased out.

. On the 10th January 1990 I addressed some 800 senior police officers and told them that it was their duty to be absolutely impartial; that they should refrain from any political involvement; and that they should restrict themselves to combating crime and protecting the lives and property of all South Africans. On the 7th March 1990, I repeated the same exercise with senior officers of the South African Defence Force.

. In February 1990 I appointed the Harms Commission to investigate certain alleged murders.

. On 9 July 1990 the Government announced the final termination of the National Security Management System, and also drastically scaled down the role of the State Security Council.

. The management of covert operations was further reviewed after receipt of the report of the Harms Commission.

. I appointed a committee under chairmanship of Prof E Khan to advise on the desirability of all secret projects
and to recommend on the phasing out, where possible, of such projects. Part of its brief was to advise me of the adequacy of existing control measures.

. I appointed a standing commission (The Goldstone Commission) to investigate incidents of public violence

. in November 1992 I appointed General Pierre Steyn to investigate allegations made to the Goldstone Commission with regard to activities of the Directorate of Covert Collection of Military Intelligence.

These steps - and particularly the reports of the Goldstone Commission - were instrumental in uncovering many of the abuses that have now come before the Courts and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, the Goldstone Commission consistently found that abuses had been committed by all sides in the conflict.

I therefore submit that extensive steps, in keeping with what could reasonably be required under prevailing circumstances, were taken to prevent abuses and the gross violation of human rights. The inability since 1994 of the new Government to bring political violence in KwaZulu-Natal to an end serves as a good case study of the limitations on any Government to effectively deal with the type of violence which has plagued our country for so long.

3. Reconciliation and the way forward

One of the main aims of the Commission's activities is to promote reconciliation. This cannot be achieved unless there is also repentance on all sides. It is in this spirit that I want to emphasize that it is not my intention to excuse or gloss over the many unacceptable things that occurred during the period of National Party rule. They happened and caused immeasurable pain and suffering to many. This is starkly illustrated by the evidence placed before the Commission at its hearings across the country. Many of the accounts by witnesses are deeply moving.

I should like to express my deepest sympathy with all those on all sides who suffered during the conflict.

I, and many other leading figures, have already publicly apologised for the pain and suffering caused by former policies of the National Party. This was accepted and publicly acknowledged by the Chairperson of the Commission, Archbishop Tutu. I reiterate these apologies today.

It is my sincere wish that other parties and organisations, which have not yet done so, will now do the same.

Without reconciliation, the future is bleak. I commit the National Party to continue on the road of reconciliation, reconstruction and development.

4. Amnesty and reparation

I believe that reconciliation goes hand in hand with the issue of amnesty and reparation.

Throughout the negotiations that resulted in the 1993 Constitution it was the understanding amongst the parties that amnesty will be provided for in legislation in line with agreements that had been reached during the process of negotiations. Those agreements and understandings secured the negotiated constitutional settlement that resulted in the peaceful transformation that we have experienced over the last number of years.

It is therefore, fundamentally, important that the Commission now deal with amnesty in an evenhanded way. Any effort to apply stricter norms than those applied in the period up till now, will result in injustice. During my term of Office I found it extremely difficult in many cases to grant indemnity, because of my personal abhorrence of the crimes involved. Nonetheless I had to pardon those then involved because it was the only way to ensure agreement and reconciliation. This difficult task now rests on the shoulders of the Commission.

The task of reparation is an equally difficult one and evenhandedness is equally important. In this regard there are no direct precedents. The victims of the conflicts of the past, more than anybody else, paid a heavy price for the freedom we enjoy today. The country owes then a great debt of gratitude and some or other form of reparation. The National Party will support all reasonable guidelines developed by the Commission in this regard and wish them well.

5. The way forward

Another prime purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation process is to learn from the experiences of the past and to ensure that we never again repeat the same mistakes.

I suggest that we should draw the following lessons and conclusions from all of these traumatic experiences:

. No single side in the conflict of the past has a monopoly of virtue or should bear responsibility for all the abuses that occurred.

. Neither can any single side claim sole credit for the transformation of South Africa. The transformation belongs to us all.

. We should take note of the disastrous consequences of "social engineering", of trying to force complex realities to conform to narrow ideological views. We should learn that the means does not justify the end.

. We should limit the power of government through the kind of mechanisms that we have included in our new constitution - including the charter of fundamental rights; the concept of a rechtstaat; the separation of powers; and the maintenance of free and independent courts and institutions of civil society.

. We must, at all costs, avoid conflict in our diverse, complex and fragile society. We must accommodate diversity and provide security for all our people and all our communities. We must promote mutual tolerance and respect and work together to build a new, over-arching and all-embracing nation. In particular, we must commit ourselves to improving the conditions of millions of South Africans who still live in circumstances of unacceptable poverty and deprivation.

. Lasting solutions to complex problems can be found only through peaceful means, through compromise and through the accommodation of the reasonable interests and concerns of others.

. We must accept the importance of reconciliation, of coming to terms with ourselves, our neighbours, and our past - of forgiving and of being forgiven.

May God, Almighty, grant the Commission the wisdom and the insight to succeed in achieving the worthy goals that Parliament has set for them.


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