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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 Nov 1996: Buchner, Jac

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POM     Let me begin maybe with a prediction you made last time we spoke which was in November 1995, just a year ago, and you said then that the chances of a conviction against General Malan and the other senior people would be about a million to one in your estimation. That turned out to be an accurate prediction by all accounts and if one reads the summary of the case given by the judge, Judge Hugo, at the end he was scathing in his depiction of the prosecution, he implied that they had not even called the right witnesses, that they had relied overly on one man. Now here is a prosecutor of McNally's experience, why would he take such a huge risk if the evidence really wasn't there, and why by the same token has he now turned around in cases where there seems to be more compelling evidence and said, "I don't think there is sufficient evidence there"?

JB     Well just to recap on the court case, I studied some of the documents there and in my opinion any legal person would have told you that there was no chance at all of a conviction for General Malan and a few of the officers that were charged but there was a case against the actual killers, there was very definitely. I think one of the mistakes that was made was to lump it together and get about twenty accused in the box at the same time, to the advantage of the killers because in my opinion the people there were definitely involved in the killing, the two or three people. But because the case was put over such a broad spectrum it lost a lot through evidence and through false evidence.

     Now I believe, and I was informed at some stage, that McNally had refused to prosecute in this case and there was an outcry in the newspapers and certain political parties made actually veiled threats that McNally would lose his job because he was not applying himself to his job properly and McNally was actually called down to Cape Town and hauled over the coals for his attitude in refusing to prosecute in certain cases. When he came back from there he made a public statement and he said he was appointed by the government as Attorney General and he had to serve until 2005 and he would not retire until 2005 and then the next minute he indicated that he was going to charge, he announced that he was going to charge Malan and everybody. So I believe that a lot of pressure was brought to bear on him and he decided in the end they'll prosecute and he couldn't have believed, I mean he's a very intelligent man, and he couldn't have believed that he had a stone-wall case against these people.

     In retrospect when we speak of basing the case on one man, well basically that's all they did, it's the evidence of this chap Opperman who actually even tried to implicate me in the thing, although two years later he stated that he had come to see me in my office in Pietermaritzburg in October 1989 and it was announced that I was going to be a witness in this case, out of the blue. That was announced on 1st November and my photograph was on the front page of the Natal papers and everything that I was going to be called and it wasn't clear whether I was going to be an accused or a witness in this case. Eventually the ITC (Investigating Task Unit) came around and saw me in, I think, February of this year. That's the first time they ever saw me.

POM     You had written to them, right?

JB     Yes that's right.

POM     You said you had written them a nasty letter.

JB     And to McNally too. And they came to see me in February this year to come and take a statement or affidavit from me and with the new Act as it is, or the new constitution as it is, they had to show me what evidence they had and there it was in one paragraph, the man said that he came to see me with another officer in Pietermaritzburg, he didn't know me but he came to see me in my office, and they discussed Operation Marion with me two years after the murders had taken place, and my statement to him was, "Well that's a good idea, you should go out and kill all the ANC leaders in this area." And I said to the guy, "Well this is the biggest load of hogwash I've ever read. I've never met the man and I've never seen him in my office." And then I looked at the letter and I said, "By the way I was not in Pietermaritzburg in 1989, I was already in Ulundi." They couldn't understand this. I saw the statement again, his statement, later on and they had changed the date to October 1988, and this is what the judge was speaking about and that's where the case dropped, the tampering of evidence, the changing of affidavits, taking paragraphs and transposing them from one statement to another and that is why he was so scathing. There was definitely tampering with the evidence.

POM     Again I've been told that McNally is a man of integrity and intelligence and he must have been aware that the evidence was being tampered with and either turned a blind eye to it entirely - is this the psychology of him? He's a professional prosecutor admired by his peers, suddenly takes off on this wild course; it's a crime in fact if he knew that the evidence was being tampered with. Just you as a policeman, if you were trying to read the psychology of the person who would do something like that, how would you read it?

JB     First of all you must take into consideration that the statements or affidavits that we are speaking of they go over quite a few pages, I think Opperman's statement was 40-odd typewritten pages and I believe that some of these statements were tampered with afterwards, after McNally had made up his mind. My own affidavit was only submitted in February this year and that portion of Opperman's statement was altered in February of this year. McNally had already drafted his charge sheet, he's already made up his mind, so he was not aware of these changes. I still believe that McNally is a very honourable man and I think he is a very astute prosecutor but he was not aware of the fiddling going on by the ITU or some members of the ITU, so I still have high respect for McNally. Just to come back to what you asked just now about he's now deciding not to prosecute in certain cases, he still has the same attitude that he did have two years ago before he charged Malan but there is no pressure being brought on him because although McNally makes the decision he has a whole team of legal experts there, he gives them the docket and says go through it with a fine tooth-comb with the investigating officers and give me your opinion whether there is a case or there isn't a case, and if they say there isn't a case then he issues the order that he declines to prosecute. So although we say it's McNally who should take the responsibility for it, but it is not only McNally but it's his whole team that have decided there is a case or there isn't a case. In the Malan case I believe it was Jeremy Irons, one of his deputies, who was actually handling the case right up until the time of the prosecution and then McNally came in personally to handle the prosecution.

POM     Your run down to just where I started with you last year, in the last year just your general commentary on where the country is going, how it's doing, it's political direction, whether it's going forwards, backwards, a zigzag course, staggering towards some kind of - it's getting there but getting there slowly or it isn't getting there and it isn't getting there slowly?

JB     Well just to give my brief impressions of what the future holds or where we are going, I think we're retreating into the future. We're not gaining any, shall I say, noticeable advantages in the new South Africa yet. I've just been on a very extended tour through South Africa for ten weeks and I believe that I've spoken to quite a cross-section of the country and the status quo as far as Caucasians, the whites, are concerned hasn't changed and the status quo as far as the blacks are concerned hasn't changed either because the poor are still poor and the rich are getting richer and it's going to take a long time. The chosen few in politics are doing very well for themselves. I have noticed many more black people driving late model cars, there are many more of them on the roads and it is very noticeable and most of them are first time owners of nice cars and a large number of them are also living under better circumstances, but those are only the ones in politics and a few in trade and industry, but the majority of the people are still poor and there is no hope in the foreseeable future that their position is going to change. The government as it is at the moment is spending money as if there is no limitation on the money they are trying to spend.

     Violence, crime is definitely on the increase. There is a certain lack of motivation, there is a lack of commitment by the policemen. I'm just referring to yesterday's paper, if you take page three of the Pietermaritzburg paper, four people killed here, six people killed there over the weekend, so many people killed, thirteen people killed, all in this little area where we're sitting. Now to the ordinary man in the street it's not noticeable but there is a lot of crime and it looks like the police have lost their commitment to counter it, or they don't seem to be able to counter it.

     As far as the politicians are concerned I believe that the government is riding roughshod over any opposition or any criticism. We've had the Sarafina thing where the Minister of Health spent fourteen million in making a video to combat Aids which was a total disaster, it was all backhanders to personal friends and so on, and they are still trying to get the money back. That was the one thing. The government has had two or three major disasters and it seems that they do not care. If there is any opposition to what they're doing they just don't care, they just go roughshod right over it. But we're in a learning phase at the moment and I think most of them can be excused for being new to the job but we've got another two years to go before the elections.

     They made a mistake, I believe, as far as Bantu Holomisa is concerned, General Holomisa, their handling of him and you ask me to make predictions, I do believe that this is a decision that they took that they will regret for many years to come in the future because it will, in my opinion, affect their showing in 1999 in the general election, if there is going to be one, because Bantu Holomisa is a very popular man, he's got populist support, he's a dynamic man I believe, he's got the support of Winnie Mandela who also believes that she was hard done by, he's got other support, what we would say, among the populist leaders and if he does create a new political party he might just split the vote away from ANC and put them in a bit of a dangerous position that they might lose the overall support that they have or the majority that they have.

POM     How about KwaZulu/Natal, at least after the local elections the level of what is called political violence has diminished, in fact the level of overall violence has diminished and there appears to be a better working relationship between the ANC and the IFP in the legislature. In fact I think this week they are holding a people's assembly where each minister must go before the public and account for the progress he's made in his or her department. Has there been any improvement here or is it still stuck in a quagmire out of which it just can't rise?

JB     Well as far as KwaZulu/Natal is concerned it is true that there is a better working relationship between the ANC and the IFP and in actual fact among all the political parties it has calmed down, the statements have actually been tempered a bit and they have cooled off. I personally believe it's to a large extent because of Jacob Zuma. He's a true blue Zulu and he has shown himself to be a very astute politician, although he's not a highly educated man he knows the basic politics of the Zulu. And the other man, Blade Nzimande, he was a very vociferous and outspoken person and he has quietened down too and to a large extent I think that is what has been the reason for the quietening down. But I believe in the run up to the elections and even the local elections that is why we had the violence. Once it was a fait accompli that the IFP had won, although not by such a wide margin or a big majority, once they had won there was no point in carrying on with the fight and so things calmed down. But in two years time when we go to the polls again there will be violence in the run up to the election again.

POM     One of the things the local elections seemed to show quite clearly, at least by the pattern of results, was that the ANC took all the urban areas. They took Pietermaritzburg by some huge amount and Durban and Richards Bay, and that the IFP support was confined mainly to the rural areas. Do you think that if the IFP doesn't take steps to correct that course that it will in fact become a regional party spaced in the rural areas of KwaZulu/Natal and really cease to be a force nationally?

JB     Personally I believe, and I'm sorry to say this, that the IFP support is mainly because of Buthelezi and if he should not be involved they will totally lose in KwaZulu/Natal. Buthelezi is the main man, Minister Buthelezi, he has always been the main man and there is no successor to him. With due respect, Dr Mdlalose is a tired old man and he's told me, as I've said before, that he would like to retire, he would like to get out of public life. Ben Ngubane and maybe Vincent Zulu could take it further but they don't have the same support.

     So what you have said is true that the ANC has total control of the urban areas and the IFP support is mainly in the rural areas and that's traditional. But I wouldn't read too much into the ANC support in the urban areas because if we look in certain areas the IFP took total control, but it's only in certain areas in the urban areas. If you take Pietermaritzburg, which I know now quite well, if you take the Mbali area, now that is about totally ANC supported, but if you go five kilometres up the road and you go to Elandskop it is totally IFP orientated. So it's maybe misleading to say that they haven't got the support in the cities or in the urban areas. They do have a lot of support but it is in isolated enclaves.

     Just to predict what's going to happen in the future, the general person, the man in the street or the person in the street, most of them their life has not changed because they have been to the polls now twice, they voted for a new government, they voted for provincial government and they are still in exactly the same position that they were and I predict that in 1999 there is going to be a much poorer turnout to the polls because what is the use of going to vote and nothing has changed.

POM     Other than the scenario you mentioned of Bantu Holomisa forming a party of his own which, I interviewed him two weeks ago and he totally said he would never form a party of his own, in fact part of what's nonplussing the ANC is that he goes around praising the ANC and Mandela all the time rather than attacking them. In the absence of that and there was, I think, an IDASA survey done which showed that there was dissatisfaction among the people but that it didn't materially affect the way people would vote, so are you in a situation of where one party is so dominant and there is no alternative for the majority, they're not going to turn back and vote for the National Party despite Roelf Meyer's dreams of it doing so, or FW's dreams of its doing so, are you for a period of time into one dominant party that might take quite a while for its own internal politics to break it up or ought there to be a realignment politically?

JB     First of all, and this is what I was trying to say just now, I personally believe there will be a much smaller turnout at the polls in two years time. The only people that really will change their ideas or maybe change their vote are people who have been used to voting now for ten or twenty or thirty years. I am speaking mainly of the Caucasians that they chop and change, but the traditional person, the first time voters that we had now, I do not believe that they will change their vote because of the situation or what the government has done. Those who voted for the ANC last time will go and vote for the ANC this time but there will be less of them going to the polls because it doesn't pay them to go and vote, it's just a waste of money and it's a waste of time. This is how I see it. You may have interviewed Holomisa and I believe he's a very clever man, he's a very astute person and the fact that he says he's not going to form a party may be true but somebody else might be forming a party and he will be part of it, but he's a man without, if I may say at the moment, he's a man without a portfolio. He's got no position now, he's not even a member of the organisation any more and that is something that he cannot live with. He's got to have a position in life and he did say in one of his statements he's taken over a government once before he won't do it again but he will not fade from the political scene and I believe that he will stand in the next election and he will make quite serious inroads into the ANC vote.

POM     We talked before, it had just started up or been announced, the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and you were sceptical about whether or not it would be even-handed, whether it wouldn't turn matters into a witch-hunt and at that point Desmond Tutu hadn't been appointed chairperson but you said that would be a good sign if he were. A couple of questions, one is, is it working? Two, probably since I've come back the thing that has concentrated my mind most, not other people's, but it has certainly been the allegations Eugene de Kock made at the end of his trial about all sorts of activities he and others had been engaged in with the approval of superiors, the chilling details of the matters he went into, the fact that it's reported that Adriaan Vlok has applied for amnesty, that your former Commissioner, Johan van der Merwe, went before the Truth Commission and said he ordered the bombing of Khotso House and he ordered it on the orders of PW Botha, the revelations of the existence of this unit within a unit, or state within a state within a state called Trewits, which used to meet on occasion and in fact specify individuals and I picked out one quote you gave me last year, you said, "I can't accept that the state here in South Africa or any organisation within the state should say that this man here in Port Elizabeth or Durban should be taken out or removed from society." And yet this appears to have been going on. One, do you think it was, two, do you think that Pandora's Box has been opened and that in fact there is going to be a flood of people who are going to make some fairly startling revelations? And, three, what starts happening if this starts reaching into the highest former corners of the old government, that ministers like PW Botha, or Louis le Grange has been mentioned as somebody else, has your belief system in any way been shaken or would you essentially be where you were a year ago?

JB     This is quite a long, long story so I hope your tape is going to last. First of all let's just get on to Trewits. I've got the distinction of having formed that department. In my task, as I had it at the time, I used to interview ANC people on a daily basis and every time there was a meeting or there had to be a briefing I went along and then I would be able to say to them there are so many ANC members in exile and there are so many people under training and this is the type of training they're doing and every time I had opposition from the military and also from National Intelligence that they did not agree with certain of my facts and figures and so on and they stated that they had informants or information to the effect that differed to mine. And I said but I get it from the horse's mouth and I always said that they were quite welcome to come and join me and come and sit in on my debriefings.

POM     Now when you were doing this, interviewing ANC people on a day-to-day basis, were these people in detention that you had picked up who had either come from abroad or were from within the country?

JB     Most of them were in detention, they had been arrested after arriving from abroad. Some of them were people who came back and handed themselves over voluntarily and worked within the system with me afterwards so I used to have about ten or fifteen of these people on tap, if I may put it that way, and who had gone through all the training externally, who had been in the camps and who had been in the offices and who could then give us the background on what we wanted. As a result of the offer I made it was then decided to form a combined unit of military National Intelligence and the police and I started off and I ran the office for a year or just over a year and then I was transferred out. But in the year all we did, and that was the basis and that was the task of Trewits, was to compile briefing reports on what the situation was with the ANC externally. That was the task of Trewits. There was never ever any indication that you had to look at the internal situation in South Africa or at people operating internally. That was not our brief.

     The chap that took over from me, I haven't seen him since the revelations, but I do believe that this Brigadier Jack Cronjé is lying through his back teeth because first of all he's the person that mentioned my name and said this Trewits was targeting people within the country. Now I had never heard of the name Ribeiro until the day the man had died when it was reported in the newspaper that he had been shot and killed, I had never heard of the man. I think I was then with Trewits and we never ever did.

     Now Jack Cronjé is my senior officer, or he was at that stage, he never attended any meetings where I was present and we never had any such meetings that he says. So he's either missing the thing or he's got a double agenda. If they took him very seriously they would have interviewed me by now already and asked me because although Trewits was part of a secret organisation like the Special Branch or the Security Branch it wasn't a secret organisation. It was open and above board, the acronym was published in the telephone directory and all this sort of thing so there was nothing underhanded about it. It was just a necessary thing to get all three services, give them access to the same information so that when I stood up and I did a briefing either to the State Security Council or to the minister or to whoever, even to foreign journalists as I did from time to time, that if I said there were, for argument's sake, 6,000 people under training in Angola, that National Intelligence or Army Intelligence wouldn't turn round the next day and say that I don't know what I'm talking about there are actually 12,000 out there, so we could speak from the same basic facts. So that was Trewits.

     I missed the other one now, but let's go back then to the TRC. To date it hasn't achieved anything except to, as you said, open the Pandora's Box. I was aware of the allegations against De Kock. I had seen the affidavits taken by the people that were put in the witness protection scheme. So what is coming out now is not news to me. I was aware of these allegations against them. At the time I did not know it was happening or carrying on. I think most of the time, I had already left Pretoria when most of the killings were taking place. I was shocked to hear that PW Botha gave the order for the blowing up of Khotso House because being an intelligence operator, being a policeman for many years, I just cannot see what the purpose was of blowing up a building that housed trade union people because I don't know what you're going to achieve, unless they wanted to put the blame on some outside organisation. I actually saw the statements on this too and it was very amateurishly done, done in a very amateurish way. Not only that, they involved about twenty people in this thing and if you want to do something clandestinely you take one or two and very trusted people. Now these people all, like De Kock's group, they all have some psychological defects somewhere in their make up.

     But just to come back to what you asked me, yes I believe the TRC was a good thing and especially under the chairmanship of Tutu because he has really proved himself to be very even-handed, even now with his latest statements that the ANC cannot give itself indemnity and that they should also come to the TRC. I take my hat off to him because I do believe he is even-handed, or he wants to be even-handed. Whether he's going to be allowed to be I don't know. I also believe it's a good thing that De Kock's things came out but I wish somebody would do an analysis of why; how could it happen that he could do all this and get away with it? Who were the actual instructors? Who told him to go and do these things? To me that's more important and I actually believe if De Kock can go to prison for 212 years or whatever the people who gave the order should also then be put in the dock. Unfortunately I think they covered their tracks quite well. It's going to be difficult to prove. It will only be De Kock's word because it was by word of mouth apparently. He was called in and told, do this. Now how do you prove that thing five or ten years later? So it will be another McNally case. It's going to be difficult to prove.

     What the TRC in actual fact has done it has totally destroyed the motivation, the commitment of the police force. I speak to some of my old colleagues who are still serving members and most of them are now accepting packages and getting out. They say they cannot live - the police have got no esprit de corps left, it's got no status in the community and they say all they're getting all day is criticism and the stress levels are increasing daily. If you read the newspapers in the last week or two you see what stress is doing to a few policemen going berserk, shooting people and I believe this is going to become more regular.

POM     But are you more inclined to believe now that there were people at the highest level of the state who were involved in organising the elimination of individuals they saw as a threat to the state? Are you more inclined to believe that now than, say, you were a year ago or do you still think it's just all in the realm of speculation?

JB     I honestly cannot believe and I cannot see that a person like PW Botha would be involved. I can understand, because I understand that Adriaan Vlok arrived at this farm and said to the guys, "Well done", after the blowing up of Khotso House, that he had knowledge, but it could be that the briefing was done to possibly the President or to certain other people and said, "We have to do this because of the following factors", and he then considered it and said, "Yes OK you can go ahead". But it wasn't something that he ordered from the top. He was asked for authority possibly to do this. It's easy for a man like De Kock to turn around now and say, "Look I worked on instructions from the top."

POM     I'm more interested in the former Commissioner, Van der Merwe.

JB     I personally know Van der Merwe, well I know him reasonably well. He's a man, unlike myself, he doesn't drink at all, he's a very staunch Christian. He's all dressed up every Sunday morning with a suit. He doesn't swear, he doesn't like swearing. Now I cannot see for one minute that a man like that would ...

POM     You see I would think a man like that is dangerous.

JB     Well they always say don't trust a man who doesn't drink. But, no, his whole make up counters any suggestion that he would be involved. There are other senior officers that I know that at the drop of the hat would order something, but they were never involved. This is what is the worrying thing to me in any case, and I'm not blaming the whole thing on the Broederbond or on a close knit society, but I sat in headquarters, I was at headquarters for thirteen years, I travelled the country and I was mostly interviewing ANC personnel. I spent two, three, four weeks sometimes with one individual just chatting away and getting the information I wanted but I had to go back to my office. I was never once told or even given an inkling of what was going on, and that was right next door to me. Now either they didn't trust me which I have to accept now, because I was English speaking, because I belonged to an English church, because I didn't belong to the brotherhood and I wasn't a Freemason, and for that reason I was not to be trusted so I was left out of it. But all these other people that were involved, all were true Afrikaners and members or possible members. Well these people, what I was trying to say is that if they applied for membership of the brotherhood there was nothing wrong with them so they would be eligible for membership. But as I said, I was never informed or I was never even given the slightest inkling of what was going on over there and all I can put it down to is that they did not trust me at that stage.

POM     Again what I'm trying to get at is, are you now more inclined to believe that these things did in fact go on? Are you now more inclined to believe that the ANC's insistence that a third force existed must be taken with a lot more seriousness than it was when FW routinely said no such thing ever existed?

JB     Just to recap on something else too, I do not believe that FW de Klerk necessarily knew about the existence of these hit squads. Having looked through the affidavits and having spoken to one or two people and of course everything that came out now in the De Kock trial, there very definitely was a hit squad in existence but I think it was a very opportunistic one. It wasn't intended to be a hit squad as such; events as they unfolded, so this sort of hit squad developed under the leadership of De Kock. But, again, I say I believe it wasn't an organised hit squad but it was just very convenient to have a man there who had the ability and apparently misused it towards the end for his own gain because some of those killings they cannot justify, not that you can justify a killing, but some of the killings that took place were on the spur of the moment and because of their own attitude towards these other people. Maybe we can speak a bit about that later on.

     That's why I said somebody should do a study of exactly how many people were killed by this hit squad or by De Kock's group and why were these people killed and if the order was given for them to be taken out, why? What was the reasoning behind this? Dirk Coetzee, it looks like the whole thing started with him because he was the first one to expose those sorts of things, the existence of hit squads, but to me I still have the impression he acted on his own or in cooperation with one or two other members of the police force. It's had a very, very damning effect on the rest of the police force. A large number of policemen that I've spoken to still can't believe that this was actually going on and when I say a number of policemen I mean within the Security Branch were not aware of what was going on. So it was an exclusive little group. I must accept that it did take place. There's no way you can deny it, but what I would like to find out is why was this taking place and for what reason were these people taken out?

POM     Well when you see people like, I can never pronounce his name, he would have been called a UDF lawyer, Griffiths Mxenge, here you had a murder detailed in a gruesome manner. It was ordered and he wasn't a terrorist, he certainly opposed apartheid and the state, but these are the questions that must be answered, are they not?

JB     Very definitely so, but the killing of Griffiths Mxenge, now the first time we heard of this, or that I heard of this, was at the Harms Commission when Coetzee apparently gave his testimony in London to the Harms Commission but he said that the man had been stabbed forty or fifty times and then this other man that they killed, Kondile from the Eastern Cape, was also just an activist. He wasn't a danger to society or anything like this and he was taken and he was put on a funeral pyre or on to some logs and set alight and they actually stood around having a barbecue and drinking while this was going on. Now when I heard it the first time at the Harms Commission I said to a few people, I said I cannot believe that, no person can ever do this, stand next to a burning body and have a barbecue, it must be a lie. Now he's repeated it again and, I must come back to him too, but he's repeated it again so I must now accept that it did actually happen. Now if you want, with due respect, I'm not an assassin or a member of the hit squad, but if you want to take somebody out surely you do it surreptitiously with a sniper rifle or something like this and one shot and the man is dead. Why go and stab a man forty five times or fifty four times, why take a body a put it on logs and set it alight and also have four or five people involved in this thing? Because you're laying yourself open to blackmail, you're going to have problems later on. But just on Dirk Coetzee, he is now sitting in front of the Amnesty group, or he's applied for amnesty, but he sits there and, well I don't attend these things but I watched it on television, and he's got no remorse, he shows no remorse whatsoever, he sits there and sometimes he even smiles when he speaks of the things that he has done. Now how can a person apply for amnesty without showing any remorse? Surely he must say, "Look I'm very sorry", or even try and weep a bit or at least look serious about the thing.

POM     That struck me, that's something that I would like you to get back to. The same was true of the men who, Van Deventer, who took the ten boys or the ten young people and got them drunk and then injected them with something and the bus they were travelling in was blown up. This was just revealed last week or something. But they could have been arrested, they could have been detained. They were kids who wanted to - and this guy Joe Mamasela was involved again. The issue I'm trying to get at is, are you beginning to feel a little more shocked, a little more disillusioned? How will you feel if it does emerge that indeed top level generals and ministers of state did in fact give the OK for these kinds of actions and in many cases directly ordered them? Will it shake your whole belief in what you were doing as a policeman, upholding law and order where those who were supposed to be the prime upholders of law and order were in fact commissioning crimes in the name of the people?

JB     Sometimes when I analyse myself I think maybe I'm a bit too naïve because I still find it very hard, I find it difficult to believe that senior officers would be involved in a thing like this. We've been called a police state for many years, we had draconian laws, we had detention laws, we could actually detain people for many, many months, years and we actually did too detain people under the emergency laws, under the State of Emergency Act, so it was totally unnecessary to take people - I actually missed out on the ten people, I heard mention that there were ten people killed, I think actually twenty eight people altogether is the sum total of what the group was responsible for, but I did listen to this one chap who said that he had taken the body and put it on top of a landmine and they blew it up and nothing remained. I just cannot believe that a senior officer at general level or at commissioner level or the minister could have sanctioned or have ordered such a killing or such actions and if it does come out I'll be shocked to the core first of all and, secondly, I worked in the Security Branch for 25 years and, well, some of the ANC people still have a little bit of respect for me but they knew when they got there and they were talking to me that they had a reasonable man that they could discuss things with and some of them felt that they were committing treason on the organisation by speaking to me and giving all the information yet we went through the due process of law. Now these were trained, as we used to call them, terrorists in those days, but trained guerrilla fighters. They were part of an illegal organisation, they came into the country with weapons, with intent to commit acts of terrorism and if you want to justify killing people then you could possibly have said well this is what they were doing, it would be good to do it, but we never ever thought of that because it wasn't necessary. We had the process of law. So that is why I feel that these people, most of what they did they acted on their own. If you look at the vast amount of money that the government was defrauded of, and we're speaking of millions, not all of it has come out, but they were in it for monetary gain rather than for political ideological gain and I still believe that most of what happened there they acted on their own, off their own bat through maybe a misguided sense of what their target is or what their aims are in the organisation.

POM     But to date has your belief system been a bit shaken?

JB     Well very definitely it's been shaken when you hear the allegation that it came right from the top, from PW, but I think PW must be given a chance to respond to say whether he did in actual fact and did he have the true facts before him before he gave the approval.

POM     Then are those beneath him who didn't put the true facts in front of him. Where does the line of accountability stop?

JB     You see this is the thing, where I said a bit earlier on, De Kock has been tried by a judge and he's been taken to court but the accountability wasn't De Kock's. He was responsible for quite a few vicious acts and acts of murder and so on but there are people above De Kock and I've got one problem with the whole thing, it should come out in the TRC, these people, even De Kock must go there, and clear the ladder up to the top. I understand that van der Merwe went to the TRC and Basie Smit and one other, they were called, they were subpoenaed to go to the TRC but then they give evidence in camera. Now where is this accountability and openness of the new government? I don't see it serving any purpose to have a man go and sit there and have the whole hearing in camera.

POM     Do you think Mandela who has said that he ordered the shootings at Shell House should have to apply for amnesty? Do you think that if he did that that it would set the kind of national example that's needed at this point in time, as it were? Because it seems to me that while there's a lot of truth maybe coming out there's not a lot of reconciliation going on.

JB     Just to get back to the TRC, I don't believe there is any reconciliation coming out of the commission's hearings. It is necessary for the washing to be hung out in public so that everybody who is interested can listen and take note of what had happened and hopefully it won't happen again in future. But it is difficult to say, well I don't believe it will serve any purpose by Mandela applying for amnesty because actually if he does he's got to go all the way back to the sixties and the formation of uMkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC, and various other things and I personally do not expect him to do it and I don't believe it will serve any purpose for him to apply for amnesty. What the amnesty applications must be are for what happened prior to the return of the ANC. I do not believe that anybody should be allowed to ask for amnesty for things that happened after the unbanning of the ANC. Then we return to normality and that must be treated in court, but everything prior to the ANC returning to the country there must be amnesty applications, not only the Pretoria bomb but there are many children that I've spoken of before that were maimed through hand grenade attacks, people that were killed, relatives that are still suffering because of attacks.

POM     Do you want to finish the point you were making on the last question? Can you remember what it was? OK, we were talking about the PAC and you were saying that you can't believe how ...

JB     How I incorrectly assessed the strength and the position of the PAC prior to the general elections. But just before we go on to that, I hate doing this but I must correct you on my rank. It is General and not Brigadier. I know you've got a Brigadier General but I'm a Major General, retired. I did say that I had misread the situation completely regarding the Pan Africanist Congress because I still believe that the PAC should be or would have been in control of the Eastern Cape area because that is where the PAC was born and that's where it had it's strongest roots in the Eastern Cape, especially around the area of East London, Port Elizabeth and also Umtata. Now the PAC is in actual fact in my opinion the ANC without the communist influence and that was one of the major reasons why in 1959 the PAC broke away from the African National Congress. It was because of the influence and the dominance of the Communist Party and whites of course in the organisation. Unfortunately for the PAC immediately after their formation, well a few months after their formation, both organisations were banned by the government in 1960 in March and they had to go underground and unfortunately for the PAC the South African Police were able to get hold of all their membership lists and the majority of the people who went to Robben Island in the first few years after the banning of the PAC and the ANC were members of the PAC. More PAC members were arrested than ANC members and they were the dominant influence on Robben Island.

     My assessment was not based on the actual presence and activities of the PAC in the Eastern Cape but just the general feeling that I've always had that they were so strong in the Eastern Cape and I've been proved wrong by the elections when the ANC won a resounding victory down there and the PAC only collected a small percentage of the votes. The PAC has got no leadership. The firebrands of the 1960s and so on have all died, all disappeared off the scene and people like Clarence Makwetu have not got the charisma and they haven't got the leadership ability to take this organisation further. As I said, it is basically the old ANC of the early days and it should have a much larger following. But if we can get one bright leading star to lead the PAC then it will become a power again and that brought me on to Holomisa. Now there are internal moves within the PAC. At their congress of about 18 months ago they actually manipulated the voting to get Clarence Makwetu back in to power because there was a move to throw out the whole of the top structure of the PAC at that meeting and then suddenly it was stated that only people who had paid up their dues could vote and they had to bring proof, written proof that they had paid up all their membership fees and also that their constituencies where they came from had also been paid up. So it effectively cut out half of the votes, or more than half of the votes. But if a man like Bantu Holomisa comes up now and does form his own party he will attract all those votes because he comes from that area, he is a very popular man in the Eastern Cape, he's actually a very popular man all over South Africa now at the moment.

POM     I interviewed him in Johannesburg about two weeks ago and I met him in the Devonshire Hotel and the office I use is about two blocks away, it's about a five minute walk or less and fifteen people stopped him to shake his hand and when we got to the office that I use there are a number of African kids there, young people in their twenties, all working, and it was like a celebrity had arrived. While I was interviewing him in one room one of them had rushed out and bought one of those small disposable cameras or whatever they are and when he came out at the end of the interview they all almost begged him to have their photograph taken with him and went through a whole series of photographs, and I said, "This man is popular".

JB     Well you see I couldn't believe these stories about the hit squads and I definitely cannot believe the story that he will not have further participation in politics in South Africa. Just on the same note, I don't know if you saw the report that he got on an aircraft from Johannesburg to Cape Town and he was one of the last to board and when he got up everybody got up and started cheering, the whole aircraft and they said it took him quite some time to get back to his seat. He once got up to go, I think to the bathroom or something like that, and he couldn't get back to his seat because he was stopped by all the individuals on the plane to have a chat and wish him well and so on, so he is a very popular man and I do believe that he is going to play a very important part, and again I say that is one of the other big mistakes the ANC made. I know Sarafina was a mistake but Holomisa was a mistake they will regret in the years to come.

POM     Mandela more or less admitted that in the interview he gave yesterday or the day before, he put it more delicately, he said the Holomisa affair could have been handled better. I don't mean that's all they could find, could have done it in a less brutal way or whether they could have kept him in the organisation. It wasn't necessary to expel him.

JB     Well I did not read the statement by President Mandela but it could have been handled much better because he is a force to be reckoned with.

POM     Just to get away from the heavy stuff, snapshots of the people you have dealt with or indirectly dealt with or have dealt with through power structures and therefore formed an impression of them, PW Botha?

JB     Well PW Botha I think is an autocrat, I've met him. The first time I met him was in Rhodesia when he was Minister of Defence in approximately 1972/73, somewhere around there, maybe 1974. I found him a very likeable person away from the office. I had the pleasure of escorting him around Victoria Falls and places like that and I enjoyed being in his company but subsequent to that I've heard him speak on numerous occasions and he's an absolute autocrat.

POM     FW?

JB     FW always gave me the impression of hail fellow well met. I shouldn't say this but he likes his little tipple and on a few occasions that I had to meet him in the evening he always came out, I say always but on the two or three occasions in the evening, with a drink in his hand, so he's not averse to having a party. He was a total unknown person to me but I had about four or five meetings with him towards the end of my career and I was most impressed by his sincerity. He appeared to me to be a very sincere person and I think, in retrospect I still believe that he did the right thing at the right time to bring us where we are today.

POM     Now an increasing number of people have said to me, this year more than last year or the year before, and maybe it's people seeing things in retrospect or whatever, but they are saying that Kobie Coetsee saw Mandela in 1985 and then in 1987 more seriously and there were five years of secret negotiations going on and that Coetsee's report-back to PW and then I suppose to the Cabinet was that the time had come to negotiate with the ANC, that they would be easy to negotiate with, that the National Party with its expertise and its skill could really drive a really good bargain for themselves; that this line was bought and that the NP went into negotiations arrogantly believing they would run circles around these guys, that they didn't think the consequences of their decisions through very well, that they had no clear strategic purpose and they were met by an ANC that was highly intelligent, very clever, turned out to be terrific negotiators, in short ran rings around the NP and wiped them out and that you could put the score as ANC - ten, NP - zero at the end of the process, or very close to it.

JB     Very interesting. I actually spoke to numerous people who were involved in the discussions with the ANC before and I was also, I must put that little bit in, I also started sending messages through with people we knew that were not going to be charged, would be released, and we knew that the story would get back to the ANC saying to them in exile, "Come back, let's rather negotiate rather than fight a terrorist war", and that also happened during the eighties and quite a few people are still around of the people that I gave messages to because I was of the same opinion that the time was ripe. But to come back about Kobie Coetsee and his meetings with Mandela, I have also heard it said that the National Intelligence Agency totally misread the situation and they briefed the Cabinet wrongly too.

POM     Now the man in charge of that at the time?

JB     Dr Barnard.

POM     He was one of the people who was involved in the discussions with Mandela?

JB     That's right, yes. Niel Barnard was involved there and because the ANC externally was not as strong as they would make the government believe, it was much weaker. But even if that was true I still believe the NP might have misread the situation as far as the ANC is concerned, but the NP could do nothing else. We had to go into negotiations at that stage. There was no other alternative. We couldn't carry on with actions against the ANC externally, we couldn't carry on the way we were doing internally and any reasonable thinking person in South Africa would know if you put politics open to everybody and not only confine it to the whites that the whites would lose because of sheer power of numbers. The ANC has been on the go since 1912. The black population has been steeped in politics, in ANC politics since long before 1912. They have got a grudge, or they've got a point to prove that they were oppressed, they were rottenly treated especially after the Anglo-Boer war when they were excluded from the new Union of South Africa. That was one of the worst mistakes ever made. So, not that I consider myself a real thinking person, but any other person who is in politics and couldn't read that the NP had no hope of ever winning an election once the blacks got the vote, I mean if they couldn't see that ...

POM     I'm not talking about that, I'm just saying that in the negotiations themselves that took place at CODESA and then Kempton Park that a lot of people say that if the NP had been better prepared and hadn't under-estimated the ANC they could have driven a better bargain for themselves maybe just in the short run, who knows. That's one point of view. The other point of view is that what was going to happen was inevitable so that the split in the NP is between those who believe that in fact we could have done a lot better at Kempton Park, we got sold out by the Roelf Meyers of the world and the Roelf Meyers of the world would say the handwriting was on the wall so when you see the handwriting read it.

JB     Sorry, I agree with you there. Let's just get back to CODESA and Kempton Park and so on and don't blame Roelf Meyer for all these things, he did a fantastic job.

POM     He did a good job, he's a good friend.

JB     No, he did a very good job there. I spoke to the people, that's what I started off and I got side-tracked, I spoke to some of the people involved in the negotiations and this perception was there that we would run rings around the ANC, that we were in a position of strength when we spoke to them. They were coming to the table trying to negotiate a settlement but we were in a position of power. I actually listened to senior policemen and they said, "Listen, these guys, we've got them over a barrel", and they were totally wrong. The ANC played them like you would when you're angling, when you have got a nice big fish on the line, they played them. The ANC are professional politicians, they lived in exile so they were exposed to a different way of thinking to the South African way. They have got the top brains of the Communist Party in there and they've got the top brains of the ANC there and they still have them today. You do not tackle Joe Slovo in those days without gloves. That man was way ahead of anybody else. Pallo Jordan, a brilliant man, brilliant negotiator. All these people, if the South African government or the negotiators underestimated them it's their own fault and they did underestimate them and I am sure we could have got a better deal. I don't know how long it would have lasted but we could have got a better deal from CODESA but in retrospect as things are going they're not all doom and gloom as everybody believes. We will survive in South Africa.

POM     Buthelezi? Everyone is reluctant to give me an opinion on Buthelezi so I'll begin by giving my own opinion. I have found him to be the most complex person I've dealt with in this country. Every time I see him he is a different personality. He is a very difficult interview, he gives nothing away. It's like dragging teeth all the time and then at the end of the interview he will say, "Dr O'Malley, that was a most stimulating conversation, I really enjoyed it", and I'm kind of - well! He's the only person that when I write looking for an interview he personally writes back, hand typed that letter, not word processed, that lays out his schedule and what he is doing and how busy he is and all the demands on him and then I'm waiting for the line to say, "So I can't see you", and he says, "So I can only see you on such and such a date." He has kept in there all the time, but certainly I have no clearer idea after all the years, I've been interviewing him now for maybe six years, of who he is now than I did six years ago.

JB     Yes, I was going to say he's an enigma but I worked very closely with him for four years and we spent many, many, many hours in each other's company so I should be able to say I know him very well. I don't. I've got the same problem as you have. He is a very complex person. He's a very sincere person, he's a very honest person. Sometime in the past I did say to him, "Will you become my President?" and he said, "I will become President if the people want me to become President but nobody has asked me." He's got no aspirations. He told me that he is a Zulu Chief and if the politics won't have him he will go back to his home area where he is Chief of that clan, of the Buthelezi clan. As you say, he is never the same person twice. We have had fun evenings, we've had fun days together where it's all laughter and totally relaxed and then some days he's tense and stressed out. I've actually sat in his company once and because I always talk such a lot I always make conversation and one day I decided I'm not going to say a word and we sat quietly in each other's company for half an hour without a word being said. So he is a complex person but I believe in him. I do not know what his aim is in life because I don't know what his political chances are in the new South Africa. I did discuss it at length with him once and I suggested to him that he should come back to Natal, become Premier of Natal, KwaZulu/Natal, at least then he's among the Zulus and he is a leader of KwaZulu/Natal, and he said no he does not see his role here. He can do a better job in national Cabinet than he can do in KwaZulu. It might sound odd that I gave him advice. It wasn't advice, it was just during a discussion. I don't think he takes any advice. Everything that he has done so far he has done on his own and you never know exactly what his agenda is and where he is going. He alone knows what he is going to achieve one day.

POM     You said, interestingly, that without him you believe the IFP would really wither as a political force or splinter into competing factions, that he is really the glue that holds it together.

JB     Let's put it this way, that I foresee no strength in the IFP should he go. Just say for argument's sake he becomes Ambassador to Rome or something like this and he's out of South Africa, out of KwaZulu/Natal, I sincerely believe then the ANC will have a better chance of winning an election in KwaZulu/Natal because the erosion of the influence of the chiefs, if that carries on they will lose their rural support that they have at the moment and I think the ANC is aware of this because this is why all this discussion and these activities around the position of the chiefs in society was such an important issue and also the position of the King. Since the King has sort of left off his argument with Buthelezi suddenly it's much more peaceful in Natal too. The King has now stated that he is not at loggerheads with Buthelezi and politically the IFP has now, I believe, gone a bit stronger.

POM     The King himself, Zwelithini?

JB     I won't say he's not my favourite person but he's a self-opinionated person, he's got a very high regard of himself and I also believe that they are starting to scratch the media and a few people are starting to also open up a Pandora's Box around the King because he has quite a few properties, farms and palaces and so on, I think he's got six palaces, and if investigations are done they will find that the taxpayer has been paying for all the farming and most of the equipment on the farms came out of the taxpayers coffers and that all the profits on the farm went straight back into his pocket and never went anywhere else. But the King as a person, he lost a lot of support from the ordinary man in the street and he has got no status any more among a large majority of the Zulus. He is not the revered King that he used to be five, six, seven years ago where everybody used to bow down and sing his praises. Very few people do that, including the chiefs.

POM     The institution of the Zulu monarchy, is that something that is still revered by Zulus. I mean to separate the man from the institution or is there beginning to be an erosion of support for that too with increasing urbanisation?

JB     Well urbanisation has definitely eroded some of the respect for the office of the King and also his involvement or his argument with Buthelezi in the last year or two has totally, in my opinion, totally eroded his position, not that of the King. We must bear in mind that although there are hundreds of thousands of Zulus living around our urban areas or in our urban areas and even outside the borders of KwaZulu/Natal it is still something very traditional to the Zulu. Their chieftanships, I mean the King is only a chief, he's one of a large number of chiefs but he is, shall I call him the main chief, and I think Buthelezi once sort of threatened, you can read it any way you want to, but he just said the King must remember that another King can be elected. There will always be a Zulu King.

POM     It's like a Prime Minister in, say, the British parliamentary system, that the Prime Minister is chosen by the members of parliament but they can always decide to replace him.

JB     That's right, yes. I think what it actually boiled down to was the King's got this position and he's a chief but the King is not for ever, I mean the person of the King, the position of the King is always there. So anybody can become King or any chief. They have changed quite a few in the years, you know the one kills the other one and so on. But when a man works in Johannesburg or wherever and he is away from his traditional home, you asked me about the urban erosion of the respect for the King and so on, the man is always subservient to his chief and it's important when he speaks to other people that he says, "I come from Inkandla area and my chief is ..." or whatever. Now he's away from home for ten years, he's got married, he's got three children or four children, but when he goes back to his home, his origins, the first thing he will do is go to the chief of the area and report back and say, "Chief, I am back here, I am living in Johannesburg now, I've married, I've got three children and I married that clan", and that clan is out of the Zulu culture totally but that's the first thing he will do when he goes back home. And that is part of the tradition of the King. That chief in turn will inform the King that one of his subjects is living in Johannesburg, has got married and he's got three children. Now it's a bit difficult to understand because that means the King will be inundated with information on a daily basis. It's not so. But that is in theory how the thing works, because when the man comes and tells his chief that this is what happens, he expects the next time the chief sees the King to report to the King that this man is still alive and well and living in Johannesburg.

POM     Mandela?

JB     Well I think I've said it before, but he is the saviour of South Africa. I think he's a very astute politician. He has saved us on a few occasions and with his cool headed approach and level headed approach and he is one person who might bear a grudge but he never ever shows it and I don't think he has a grudge against the people who put him in prison. He has let bygones be bygones. I believe he is a very sincere man. I am just sorry that he doesn't want to stay on after 1999 because now after the latest statements we're going to have the jockeying for positions again, after saying that Thabo Mbeki is not the crown prince.

POM     He now denies that.

JB     Well until we find out what gives, but I do believe in actual fact that it was the right thing to do, to tell Mbeki that he is not the crown prince and that we will wait until 1999 to decide who the new president of South Africa is. But Mandela is, I think, a very clever man and the only problem I have is that he did not act in the Sarafina thing. He should in actual fact have taken steps against Dr Zuma and on the second thing about Bantu Holomisa, that thing. And as you said now, I didn't see the statement, but it should have been handled differently because he's going to lose some support. And there were one or two others there too that he made, one or two statements, but other than that I still think he is the perfect statesman, he is a very good statesman and I like the fact now that he is seeing Samora Machel's widow. I think that is very nice. He looks happy with her.

POM     Just two more. Thabo?

JB     Thabo Mbeki, I haven't got proof of this but I do believe that when he started off back in South Africa as the first Deputy President, when we still had two Deputy Presidents, I believe that he missed the boat on a few occasions, that he was not up to the position that he was holding. But lately he has really come to the fore and he is showing that he is a very good politician and that he has got a good grasp and that he understands the importance of foreign relations with South Africa.

POM     Ramaphosa?

JB     Well Cyril Ramaphosa just shows what money can do to a good communist. I think effectively Ramaphosa is now out of the running. A man who is going to earn such a large salary, I know you can't write him off and he might make an appearance, but I do not believe he will ever accept the presidency of South Africa. He will lose too much financially by doing that but he is a very astute person, a very good politician and a very good speaker. I would like to be able to speak the way he does.

POM     If it still had been an open race in the ANC, would you rather see Ramaphosa be the next president or Mbeki?

JB     Well you ask me a question. I can't say it's difficult or whatever. I believe that Cyril Ramaphosa would make a better president than Mbeki would. He's more eloquent. I think he will be more acceptable not only in the western world, in the rest of the world. He's such a good speaker and he's a very hard worker so he comes over more forcefully than Thabo Mbeki. I think Thabo is a bit reticent. I won't say he's an introvert, he nearly sometimes comes across as a traditional man. I've seen him sit at meetings and start up his pipe. Now Cyril Ramaphosa would never do a thing like that. There's nothing wrong with a man with a pipe but I've just watched him and he still does it the way they used to do it in the forties and the fifties.

POM     I will leave it at that. Thank you ever so much, I really appreciate it. I feel when I talk to you that we're recording history in one way or another all the time and we revisit scenes as we go and it's fascinating to me. I hope it's worthwhile to you as it is to me.

JB     Thank you very much. I enjoy it too.

(NB: The incidences that Buchner is referring to were a couple of bizarre incidences over the weekend of the 9th or 10th November 1996 in which a couple of policemen went berserk and shot members of their families or others for no apparent reason. )

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.