About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

State Security Council under PW Botha

On reflection it would not have been surprising that some members of former apartheid cabinets were neither party to nor informed of decisions with respect to the "gray" areas of state security. But not being informed about what agendas were pursued is not the same as saying they were not aware of what was going on around them. Leon Wessels, the former NP minister who unequivocally apologized for apartheid put it best when he said that they had not wanted to know, for there were those who tried to alert them. In many respects a peculiar acknowledgment from Wessels, who as Deputy Minister of Law and Order was the chairman of the National Security Management Centre (NSMC) should this be System not Center, which was set up in 1987 to manage the state of emergency under the supervision of the Office of the State President. With the appointment of Adriaan Vlock as Minister of Law and Order in 1987, the interests of the security police assumed a greater prominence in the deliberations of the SSC1. In perhaps one of the most succinct summaries of the mountains of documentation gathered by the TRC, Tutu says: "For those with eyes to see there were accounts of people dying mysteriously in detention. For those with ears to hear there was much that was disquieting and even disturbing. But like the three Monkeys, they choose to neither hear, nor see, nor speak of evil."2 But again, "plausible denials" that former cabinet members have come up with must at least be given some context -- the governance structures that existed in South Africa in the late 1970s and 1980s, and subsequent events must be evaluated against the backdrop of that context.

PW Botha's first years in office resulted in a complete reorganization of the apartheid state with the centralization of decision-making to sidestep the endless bureaucratic tie-ups and interdepartmental infighting and the militarization of decision-making and administrative structures. His final years in office were characterized by an imperial presidency no longer accountable to cabinet or colleagues, one that had embraced the securocrats' paradigm of a national security state to which all sectors of society, public and private alike, were subordinate.3

At the pinnacle of the new structures, collectively under the umbrella of a revamped National Security Management System (NSMS) was the State Security Council (SSC) which reported directly to Botha who also controlled access to it.

In Forty Lost Years, Dan O' Meara describes in detail the powers the SSC exercised over the making of state policy, the controls it used to zealously preserve its preeminent position, and the increasing militarization not only of the SSC itself but of all the bodies that served under its direction and control:

Everything deemed connected to the security of the state now fell under its purview from foreign policy to the price of bread. It was inside the SSC that 'the utilization of all the means available to the state to achieve specific objectives envisaged by the Total Strategy was planned and managed. Statutory members included, in addition to the Prime Minister/State President, the Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Law and Order, together with the head of the National Intelligence Service, the Chief of the SADF, the Directors General of Foreign Affairs, Law and Order and the Commissioner of Police. 4

The SSC was exempt from the rule that Cabinet Committee decisions be subject to Cabinet ratification. The Cabinet was only informed of SSC decisions after the fact, and at the discretion of the Prime Minister -- later the State President. [my ithal.] Meeting the day before the fortnightly Cabinet meetings, the SSC would prepare the agenda for the meeting during the entire Botha administration, no decision of the SSC was ever overturned by the Cabinet. [my ithal.]

. the details and implementation of the reform programme were planned and debated within the SSC rather than the broader cabinet.

Influence within the government was increasingly confined to those ministers whose portfolios gave them a bureaucratic power-base within the SSC. Ministers who did not sit with their chief bureaucrats in the SSC were frozen out of key debates and lacked the political wherewithal to influence government policy. Though (the co-opted ministers) sat at the table, they did so in their individual capacities without their departmental heads and strategists to engage in the bureaucratic bargaining that determined policy. (do you want this same print or back to 12 point font?)

the military in general, and Military Intelligence in particular, came to play a principle role in shaping the overall thrust of state policy.5

Despite frequent assertions that the SSC simply advised the Cabinet, which retained full and final authority, the Cabinet was simply not consulted on a range of absolutely fundamental decisions over the direction and details of government policy. These included, inter alia, the May 1986 raids, which scuttled the EPG; the declaration of the June 1986 state of emergency; the February 1988 banning of the UDF and 17 other organizations.6 [my ithal.]

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.