About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

12 Jan 1993: Goldstone, Richard

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Richard, you've been conducting investigations now for the better part of two years?

RG     It's only one year and a bit. We started in November 1991.

POM     And your courts have begun to carry great weight in every circle and are taken as very independent and non-partisan investigations of what are often very volatile incidences of violence. When you look at the scatter of incidences you have investigated are there are any common patterns that are emerging?

RG     With regard to causes of violence?

POM     With regard to the cause of the violence.

RG     Nothing that we haven't reported on before. The evidence still points to the primary trigger of violence as being the political rivalry between the ANC and Inkatha. The first evidence obviously, and we deal with evidence and not speculation, the only evidence which has emerged of a current third force for want of a better description, I don't like the word third force because I've probably told you before it's too inexact, it means too many different things to too many different people, obviously though is the information which we've exposed regarding the activities of Military Intelligence and even more importantly the comments made by de Klerk on the 19th of December. But even assuming that there's a third force operating and fomenting and encouraging violence they would hardly be able to do it with great success and it certainly wouldn't have led to the levels of violence that we're living with if there wasn't the underlying rivalry between IFP and ANC. It's not difficult to imagine a situation where some malicious party wishing to destabilise and derail the peace process goes and waylays an ANC or IFP leader at night on the road and bumps him off confident in the knowledge that within 24 hours there will be a revenge killing on the assumption by the one party or the other that the other was responsible for it. That I think really just demonstrates what I'm saying.

POM     Were you surprised by what you found when you made your raid on Military Intelligence?

RG     Well surprised in the sense that the then head of Military Intelligence was the instigator of the employment of a man of the calibre of Ferdi Barnard, was obviously a party to lying publicly about that employment. I was, I was surprised that that was happening at so high a level in the South African Defence Force.

POM     I remember the first time we talked that you almost rejected out of hand the possibility of there being any organised activity within the military to derail the process.

RG     I think that's overstating it. I stressed that there was no evidence that had been given to the commission. I don't think I was expressing any personal, giving any personal clean bill of health to anybody.

POM     Would you modify that now and say there is some evidence that there has been some organised activity within the military?

RG     Clearly, clearly. What I was talking about was evidence given to the commission and not any speculation or any surprise I might or might not have had. My surprise, if that's the correct way of putting it, was at the level at which that sort of thing was happening.

POM     Would it surprise you more if evidence emerged that members of the government knew of this activity?

RG     Absolutely, and I think especially in light of the steps taken by the State President. If he, for example, had knowledge and was involved it's unlikely, I don't say it's impossible, but it's unlikely that he would have been able so precipitately have taken strong action in laying blame and putting people off. I can't see all of them simply agreeing to that if to their knowledge he was a party to it.

POM     So when the ANC continued to insist, as they do, that the major cause of the violence is the government, or the government egging on Inkatha or operating in complicity with Inkatha, this in your view with the evidence available to you is still largely propaganda?

RG     I think so. They've certainly not produced any hard facts. They never have. Our raid on Military Intelligence wasn't due to anything but the commission's own investigators following up information. It didn't come from the ANC. So I don't think they know. I think they are speculating and I suppose as politicians they are entitled to do that.

POM     Is the main cause, not the sole cause, but the main cause of the violence the political rivalry between the IFP and the ANC, and the ANC denies this?

POM     Well it's because they always state it in terms of that it's the government that has the double agenda.

RG     Well that's right.

POM      Double agenda to negotiate and then undermine us in the townships.

RG     It's shifting the blame. It's not denying the blame.

POM     It's third forces or operating with Inkatha or funding Inkatha or one thing or the other.

RG     Well there's a logical fallacy I think in that and that is why I still can't understand why it would be in the government's interests to derail a process which is vital to their continuation of, if not power, of certainly influence. If the peace process fails and if anything can kill it it's violence. If the peace process fails it's the end of the National Party and it's the end of the ANC too I would imagine. So I don't believe it's in the interests of either party to foment violence.

POM     The investigation of the violence in Thokoza, as I read the reports that came out, very much revolved around the cycle of revenge killings. Is this a pattern that emerges in other places?

RG     I think so. I don't think there's a simple pattern of violence in any of the troubled areas. If you take Brandville which has now erupted again in Mooi River, it's a very complex situation that's led to the continuation of the cycle. I think it's true throughout and that's why I think, I don't want to oversimplify it, and by simply concentrating on IFP/ANC rivalry is an oversimplification and leaves out of account many other historical and current complications.

POM     To what extent is the violence due to political causes and to what extent is there a kind of effect that is non-political, that has simply become tit for tat retaliation?

RG     I think the political aspect is critical [and the proof really is in the ..]. We didn't have this sort of violence before 1989, before 1990. Before the ANC was unbanned and the other parties were unbanned there wasn't this level of violence and it wasn't only because of the state of emergency that there wasn't that violence. The ANC didn't pose a political threat on the ground to the IFP. The IFP had no opposition, no lawful opposition in the field. There was nobody else who was openly able to conduct political activity. If that wasn't the cause, why does it coincide with the lifting of bannings and the allowance of political activity? That's all that changed.

POM     When de Klerk fired, or voluntarily retired, a number of senior police officers at the beginning of December, did you think that was a sufficient move?

RG     I don't think it's intended to be. I think, my understanding of de Klerk's announcement was, that this was an immediate reaction to an interim oral report which he got from General Steyn. It wasn't a written report, but what was reported to him was sufficiently serious to galvanise him into activity such as that on Christmas Eve virtually.

POM     It was a report by?

RG     General Steyn, who is the army investigator. But it's difficult for me even to comment on that because we're involved right now in the continuation of that investigation.

POM     And how about Boipatong? Has there been a follow-up?

RG     No, everything's frozen at the moment because both the ANC and the police are still insisting on expert analysis of the tapes and until that's been resolved one way or the other we can't bring out a report.

POM     Do you think that in the months since we talked that the climate for free and fair elections has improved?

RG     I think it's improved radically and possibly because of adverse conditions. I think the leadership of most of the important parties, certainly the government and the ANC, I get the impression that there's a greater feeling of urgency if only for economic reasons in finding a quick rather than a slow solution to the problems. I think there's more realism and I think there's more determination. What was interesting I think was the announcement which I made concerning the activities that we discovered on the part of Military Intelligence didn't lead even to a hiccup in the negotiation relationship between the ANC and the government. I feared it might. It was one of the factors that made it an excruciatingly difficult decision for me to know how to handle it and what to do about it. It seemed to me that the ANC might well, with some justification, have turned round and said, "On what basis do we continue negotiating with a party that's using it's military to undermine us?" But that was never even remotely suggested by any of the ANC leadership.

POM     Do you see de Klerk, if one looks at the period from last March which was the high point in his career insofar as he got the mandate he wanted from the white electorate but since then things seem to have been sliding slowly downhill for him either in terms of the initiatives he takes, he's more on the reactive side rather than the proactive side. Do you think he has been politically weakened in his own constituency in the last six months and why the ANC don't criticise him is in fact because they're afraid he'd become so weak that he can't deliver the white constituency and they need a strong de Klerk to negotiate with?

RG     I think there's some element of truth in that, but I think it's an over-sophisticated argument in a way. So I was saying I think it's really an over-sophisticated argument. I don't believe the ANC sit back and think, "Ah ha, de Klerk is now weak in his constituency and we must prop him up and do something about it." I think, really I suppose, I'm not a political scientist, but I'm beginning to see more and more that when politicians are faced with a situation, particularly in a crisis, their very first instinct, knee-jerk reaction is how best do I handle this for myself? People are naïve to think politicians are thinking in terms of what's best for the country. I don't think so, I think politicians, and I'm not only talking about South Africa, I think anywhere in the world a politician's first interest is their own survival, which I suppose is natural when you come to think of it. And I think if one analyses political events bearing that in mind it begins to make more sense.

POM     So would you see the level of violence tapering off in 1993?

RG     If, as I'm hopeful, cautiously hopeful, we in fact have an interim government, have a police force which is controlled by a legitimate government, a quasi-legitimate government as an interim government hopefully will be, I believe one will begin to see a tapering off of violence. There's a tremendous intolerance in this country which is shown at these meetings, the meeting last night in Guguletu, and I don't know how one has elections. I mean take the position in KwaZulu. I think the ANC, correctly, say how on earth do they hold political meetings in KwaZulu at the moment when the KwaZulu government or the KwaZulu Police are not acting neutrally? I think these things have to be addressed and speaking for the commission I think it's one of our primary concerns.

POM     Is Buthelezi key to this process in the sense that he has the potential to be a spoiler? In other words I mean that if the government and the ANC got together and hammered out a deal and he said, "I do not accept this", does he have the capacity, the resources, the power base to continue to conduct what would amount to a low level intensity civil war in Natal indefinitely?

RG     I think that must be absolutely so. Unfortunately, it doesn't take too many explosives or automatic weapons today to cause chaos. You don't need hundreds of thousands of people, tens of thousands or even hundreds to cause absolute chaos in a city or any area. Clearly he's got that capability, he's got considerable force. So yes, I think he is in the position of a potential spoiler.

POM     Do you think that's appreciated, just from conversations you've had with either members of the government or the ANC?

RG     They appreciate it, absolutely.

POM     Well they made propaganda, particular to the ANC, in one way, that they are quite aware of the reality at another level.

RG     I was going to say that it's interesting with hindsight, I think a lot of people, and I include myself, attached a great deal of importance to the bilateral talks that were so important in the second half of last year between the government and the ANC, between Roelf Meyer and Cyril Ramaphosa, and in retrospect it may be that, I wouldn't say it was a mistake, I don't think there was any option, it was the only way really to get the ANC back to negotiating and without getting them back to negotiation there was going to be no negotiation. So it was probably a necessary evil. But like all important things in life you get nothing for nothing and the cost was alienating Buthelezi and driving him into the arms of the right wing, white and black parties. I think he's now being weaned again from them. I don't think he really belongs there. I think he's got a great deal more to his credit than some of the crackpot people we have in that COSAG alliance. He's got a following, clearly. He's an important regional leader. I think the error he makes is to elevate himself into an important national leader. He likes to see himself in the same category as de Klerk and Mandela and obviously he hasn't got that sort of national support, but within Natal, KwaZulu obviously he's an important leader.

POM     But does his importance then lie in the fact that he can be an orchestrator of violence? Does his importance lie in the fact that even though he's not a national figure that he has the capacity to mobilise the violence?

RG     I don't think that's the only importance of it. I think he's an important regional leader and I think if we're going to get a successful solution we need to involve all our leaders.

POM     In your investigations do you find Zulu nationalism as any kind of a card which can be played?

RG     Well outside of Buthelezi using it, not really. This is one of the problems. I think one of the problems that's going to have to be dealt with and the ANC is modifying its views very considerably is in relation to some sort of regional devolution of power in recognising regional interests. Obviously the historical problem in South Africa is really an African problem and that is in the minds of most ANC leaders. Any question of regional powers smacks of neo-colonialism and neo-apartheid and is an extension of the divide and rule policies of colonial rulers, neo-colonial rulers, so that they instinctively react negatively to it. At the same time it ignores the reality, it ignores cultural, language, ethnic loyalties, interests and if there's going to be a sensible constitutional settlement it seems to me that while we undoubtedly need strong central government and national policies with regard to policing and army and education, I think most sensible people would agree that there's some room for regional powers.

POM     Do you see any kind of movement in regard to their attitude towards ethnicity? In 1989 or 1990 you could never raise the word with them, for them it was a direct product of apartheid and any ethnic differences that did exist were created by apartheid and didn't precede apartheid?

RG     Well I don't think ethnicity was really created by apartheid. It was given a bad name and it was misused by apartheid theorists. But it was a fact, ethnicity isn't something that the National Party or the theorists of apartheid invented. Going back centuries it's a question of trying to see the positive side of ethnicity and not as the apartheid government did it simply for evil reasons.

POM     On this question I want your personal view rather than as head of the commission. The ANC recently released a document called A Strategic Perspective in which it seemed to suggest that it understood that power sharing with the National Party would be necessary not only during an interim period of government but perhaps for some time thereafter. One of the rationales for this was that there were too many forces out there that could destabilise the new democracy and if they were co-opted and became part of it in some way, the security establishment and the civil service, etc... What is your reading of that document? Do you see this as being the policy they have adopted which they are prepared to insert clauses in the constitution, agreed sunset clauses for the share of power or something that they are just putting out there as a general principle which they would voluntarily do, which they would do but do it on a voluntary basis from the place of being the majority party who is prepared to share power voluntarily with other parties?

RG     I don't understand it to be any sort of binding document. It was a policy statement and I think a very important one. It was amazing to me how little publicity it was given. I suppose not surprisingly the SABC I think ignored it completely. I don't believe many white South Africans will know what you're talking about when you refer to that document, but it's one of the illustrations of what I was talking about earlier and that is what I see in the beginning of 1993 as a greater sense of urgency from the political parties to reach a settlement and I think this was very important. The ANC and the government I think have been modifying their constitutional approaches considerably in the last couple of months, coming closer together in a number of respects.

POM     I was going to ask you that. As you look at the evolution of both the government's and the ANC's strategic positions since February 1990, how do you see them as having changed slowly towards this?

RG     Well the economic policy of the ANC has come much more to the centre. They almost have abandoned nationalisation across the board. They are no longer in the same terms about reallocation of resources and reallocation of land. They haven't abandoned it by any means but I think they're looking at more liberal, legal, constitutional means of achieving it and I think the government has moved similarly towards abandoning any question of having a constitution simply preserving property rights and not allowing for, they wouldn't like the term, of an affirmative action programme, that's what it amounts to. There is a coming closer together on the part of the two major parties. The question is who is going to attend? It's like a moving train, this constitutional train, at each station some people get off and some people get on and the question is who is going to be on when it reaches its destination.

     But I'm not unhopeful because I think the reality is if the white right wing, for example, aren't at the negotiating table they in fact will have to accept that the National Party will be negotiating on their behalf. It's in their interests to be there. I think similarly if the PAC is not at the table the ANC is going to be negotiating on their behalf, so they might as well be there. I hope that's not an over-optimistic view but it seems at least a possibility if not a probability that when the chips are down and serious negotiations are under way that they will be there. What form it is going to take I don't know. I think CODESA obviously wasn't the correct way of doing it. I don't think you can have negotiations dealing with such important matters where the Kwangane delegation has the same vote as the ANC or the government. How that's going to be done I'm not sure but it seems to be that sooner rather than later there must be some sort of election. The ANC I know is already gearing up for an election during the year.

POM     As you would look at the next year, what would you see as the major obstacles de Klerk faces and Mandela faces in taking their respective constituencies along with them or being able to withstand pressures from within those constituencies?

RG     I think they are facing the same problem and that is stagnation. I think if they're not going to move forward they're going to move backwards and it's obviously too volatile a situation for any leaders to stand still and I think that's what de Klerk has been doing for the last three or four months. I think in February 1990 he was way ahead of everybody else's position, when I say everybody else I'm talking politically. The politicians then caught up, the political process then caught up with where he was and it's gone on a bit more rapidly than he has so he's lost that initiative and I think it would be a good thing if he regained it.

POM     How do you think he lost it?

RG     Simply by not moving. By letting events overtake him, by not being sufficiently proactive.

POM     And Mandela?

RG     Mandela really I suppose has benefited to an extent. He's remained extremely firm, he's exacted very serious concessions from the government. The Record of Understanding I think was a complete victory for ANC and for their negotiators. I would imagine that he's reaping the benefit of that. But things are moving so quickly that this is almost ancient history already. The Record of Understanding has come and gone, it hasn't been implemented. And what's interesting is the ANC have remained significantly silent in not making a big noise about the government not complying with its obligations on the Record of Understanding. I think that and their reaction to the Military Intelligence disclosure indicates the seriousness with which the negotiation process is proceeding at the moment behind closed doors.

POM     So if the next round of multi-party negotiations takes place, do you see the government going in in a weaker position than it was say last May before CODESA 2 collapsed?

RG     Mm mm. I'm not sure, it may not be a bad thing. At this point I suppose the government and the ANC have both got more problems than assets and to that extent need each other all the more. I think that's indicated in the present climate of an absence of shrill condemnation one of the other.

POM     Looking at Bisho, that's another area that you have under investigation, preliminarily can you say something about its significance? Some people have suggested that brought the ANC to its senses in the sense that it realised it had gone as far as it could go in terms of that kind of mass action, and that kind of mass action would encourage the threat of the loss of too many lives and it would be unacceptable to people. I recall at the time reading different accounts of it in the press and the white press took a very different attitude towards it than the black press did. The white press was quite harsh in condemning the ANC for being provocative and for taking the action that it did when it probably knew that it would provoke violence, whereas the black press was just outraged by the fact that Gqozo just had his army open fire on unarmed people.

RG     You're probably correct. I think it did perhaps illustrate to the ANC the limits of that sort of mass action. What interested me was the misuse both the government and the ANC made of our guidelines for mass demonstrations. It was just ridiculous to even suggest that those guidelines were intended to apply for a Bisho type of situation. Those guidelines apply to marches through the streets of a city that last maybe one or two hours or three. It would certainly not relate to a mass march across a border in the face of military objection. But it illustrates how far this went. It was interesting, the attack from the right wing was interesting, and they attacked the government for having allowed them to use South African territory to get from Kingwilliamstown to Bisho. But, I don't know, I wouldn't have thought that it's going to succeed for any length of time in stopping further mass action. I think if things don't develop fairly quickly in the next six weeks I'm sure we'll be back to mass action. I think the ANC has to keep their pot on the boil and they have to keep their supporters involved in the political process. I wouldn't attach too much importance to Bisho and people have short collective memories anyway.

     The other important thing that's changed in South Africa in the last seven or eight months of course has been the international community's involvement here. I've got no doubt that their presence here has made, and will continue to make, a terribly important contribution to reaching a settlement. People's behaviour in the streets has altered, in the UN observers. I must say they didn't help very much in Guguletu last night, but I think it will have consequences due to the fact that two UN observers were there and videos were taken of what happened. I think that is a good thing and I think it will have political consequences that it wouldn't have had if they weren't there because the major players are very sensitive to the praise or condemnation by the international community. I think that's one of the reasons the commission is in the position it is today, it's to a very large degree the result of the contribution made by the international community, that internationally we've been given.

POM     Now you asked the government for further resources to expand your range of activities?

RG     There was a great deal of confusion about that and the newspapers were mainly to blame. They said that I asked de Klerk for more power, legal powers. Well that was nonsense. I mean we've got all the legal power that any commission could wish to have. I can't think of any that we haven't got. What I was asking de Klerk for was the authority and the empowerment in the political sense to investigate what the army and the police are going in respect of covert operations and I was requesting the same from the ANC and the KwaZulu government. And I was asking for resources to be able to do that, if we were given that go ahead, but de Klerk and the Minister of Justice under whose department the commission falls financially and organisationally have never ever withheld anything that we've required.

POM     So are you in a position to conduct these investigations?

RG     Absolutely. If we need more people to do it we'll get them.

POM     That would include both the IFP and paramilitary organisations and the ANC as well?

RG     Correct.

POM     What about APLA? Is this targeting of whites? [Again, does it carry the ...?]

RG     I don't know how big or how small it is. I don't think anybody else does. It seems to be an absolutely unknown quantity and that's what we're investigating. I'm not surprised that the PAC have now said that they're refusing to co-operate and so is Transkei. The difficult question we've got to decide before next Monday is what action to take and whether to issue subpoenas and summonses against the PAC witnesses and if necessary prosecute them if they refuse to answer the subpoena. But APLA certainly seems to have some personnel who have received training in various places. There's no suggestion that their claims of responsibility for violence, murders and explosions aren't what they purport to be. The police certainly and everybody else seem to act on the assumption that they are valid plans.

POM     We were in Witbank the other evening interviewing one of the families that we have out there and the wife is a school teacher in a primary school and she explained to us how the children are now trained how to deal with sudden attacks on the school, what they're to do if bullets start flying.

RG     Is this a white school?

POM     It's a white school, it's Model C but it's 90% white, but it was an illustration of the symbolic importance of these attacks that they are striking at what whites most feared, that blacks would start killing whites. So it changes the framework in which violence is looked at.

RG     Well it must be so. And most people in the street I don't believe draw nice distinctions between political violence and criminal violence. Whites in Johannesburg are scared, they lock their car doors and they are prepared to go through red traffic lights if suspicious characters walk up and I don't think it's too much of a different mentality to that of somebody who lives in Kingwilliamstown and was frightened as a result of the explosion at the golf course. There is generally a fear amongst whites that there wasn't before and at the expense of sounding callous I'm not sure it isn't a good thing because I think if there's going to be a political settlement whites are going to have to pay a great deal in real terms. Their standard of living is going to drop, unemployment is going to rise, there are going to be more wealthy blacks and less wealthy whites, comparatively speaking. Until now the major area where whites have really felt that sort of thing is in consequence of affirmative action programmes at universities on the Witwatersrand and Cape Town where black children have got in ahead of white children and white parents are crying foul, but that's a very small part of the price that's going to have to be paid by white South Africans. I'm not sure that a bit of shock treatment isn't going to make it easier for them to accept what's coming to them. Anybody who thinks this is going to be a beautiful smooth transition to wonderful democratic rule has got a hell of a shock in store for them. It's a question of trying to reduce the number of lives that are lost and not to prevent it.

POM     Just a final question, Richard, do you think there can be a stable political settlement in the absence of the violence being brought under what I would call maybe an acceptable level of control, or do you think that the violence would diminish after a political settlement is reached?

RG     Well I don't think there's going to be a serious diminishing of violence before there's a political settlement. I think people have got to be faced with a political fait accompli really before they start preaching tolerance and try and get some democratic show on the road. For that reason I've got very strong feelings that anybody who says that we must hold the democratic process up until the violence is over is just being stupid and really giving a veto to the people who are perpetrating the violence. I don't think it matters. I think we've got to go on trying to reach that settlement come hell or high water regardless of the level of violence. If the violence can be dampened in the meantime, in the interim, so much the better.

POM     So that even if elections were to take place in an atmosphere of some intimidation and violence, it is more important to go ahead with them than to say we'll wait until conditions are more ideal?

RG     Right.

POM     OK, I'll leave it there.

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