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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
13 Mar 1997: Meyer, Roelf
POM Let me begin by perhaps asking some easy questions. When things happen or don't go right, the ANC insists quite vehemently at times that there are still elements of the third force that are operating and frustrating the transformation process. One, do you believe that sufficiently conclusive evidence has now emerged that there was indeed a third force? Two, do you think that there are elements of it that are still operating in various ways? Three, do you put credence in the reports that senior ANC cabinet members may have been police informants. Four, do you see the ANC preparing to deal with that issue by saying this is one more element in the dirty tricks campaign designed to divide the ANC and have us become suspicious of one another and engage in an internal witch-hunt?
RM You said it's easy questions you're starting with? I think the first question relates to the existence in the past of a so-called third force. We have spoken about that in the past and I think at a very early stage of our discussions, maybe 1991 or 1992 or those years, I might have indicated to you that some of things that happened seemed to be very strange and that matters like the train violence and so forth seem to have a particular organised trend and I think I indicated at that stage that it could have come from different sources. Now that would still be my view, in other words that, yes, apparently there were activities of an organised nature but whether that could be related to a third force would I think always depend on what one would define a force as or what one would then define a third force as under those circumstances. I am still of the belief, even with the available information at this point of time, that there were certainly elements who played an active role in organising some of those incidents, violence and even atrocities but whether one could call that a force as such is difficult to say.
POM There could be some government ministers or senior security people operating outside of the parameters of government, or who would be the central directing authority?
RM I would find it hard to think that there was any government minister involved in that. Certainly I'm not aware of that. It would be hard even to think that there were senior, at the level of Director General or whatever, civil servants responsible for that. Let's take an example, Vlakplaas. Only those that were involved in that were apparently aware of the activities of Vlakplaas and what was going on there, but definitely it was never clarified at the highest political level, in a concerted way at least. If a minister knew of that then it was him as a person, as an individual, but I would even leave that for a question-mark at this stage because I don't know whether any particular politician was aware of that. I can for a fact say that the Vlakplaas, in spite of the fact that I was Deputy Minister of Law & Order at the particular point during the eighties, as you are aware, that I wasn't even aware of Vlakplaas and what was going on there. So I guess it still remains difficult to see how the whole picture will unfold and if it will ever totally unfold. There are still some big question-marks I think about many things that happened.
RM Well as I said, for instance, the train violence. Up to this moment there is no clarity as to what was responsible for that or who was responsible for that.
POM Some of the units, people at Vlakplaas I think have already taken 'credit' for organising attacks on trains.
RM Maybe, maybe, I can't, as we talk now, I can't recollect whether some of that information would actually give the full picture. My impression is that it would not so I think there is still further information to come forward.
POM So if someone said to you, you were Deputy Minister for Law & Order and under your nose or during your stewardship there existed a unit called Vlakplaas which was carrying out 'bloody murders' supposedly at the behest of the state, to what degree of accountability would you hold yourself as a deputy minister? The example I will give will be maybe the famous one in the early 1980s when Argentina invaded the Falklands and Lord Carrington who was then the Foreign Secretary immediately resigned saying that he should have been aware that Argentinean ships were moving in that direction and it was kind of a dereliction of duty and he submitted his resignation which was immediately accepted. How do you see your accountability is what I'm getting at? Should you have known? Were you naïve? Were things happening around you and other ministers that you simply were all closing your eyes to?
RM I think one will have to analyse this and I'm not trying to shy away from the question because it is from that angle something that one has given attention to in one's own mind at least over the last number of months. But let me explain it from this angle, I had very little direct line function responsibility in my capacity as Deputy Minister of Law & Order. The functions of the ministry that were delegated to me were probably about 10% of my official obligations at that stage. In other words I was attached to the ministry but not really responsible because I had other functions, inter alia the National Management System, so my line function responsibilities at Law & Order would not have allowed me necessarily to take care of or be aware of what was going on in the ministry or the department at that stage. So it was not my responsibility in the first instance and therefore people would not have had to check out or get orders from me. Secondly, there was not, I would say at that point of time, for me a reason to expect such a unit as Vlakplaas to exist.
POM Who was minister at that point?
RM Adriaan Vlok. I mean Vlakplaas only became public knowledge when Eugene de Kock started to give evidence in his trial and that was last year or the year before last. When I was deputy minister in that portfolio, now ten years ago in 1987, there was certainly no evidence publicly known or information publicly known about the existence of Vlakplaas.
POM Even though your boss knew about it and visited it and very often congratulated the people involved, or allegedly congratulated the people involved on the success of their operations?
RM What he knew I wasn't aware of, definitely not.
POM OK, I'll come back to that. Do you find the ANC's assertion that there are still elements out there trying to undermine the transformation process credible in the light of the past, particularly the years 1990 to 1994/95 or do you think there is a convenient excuse for their own failures now that apartheid is no longer there?
RM Well I think that is a political reaction one often hears like when things are not like they should be in terms of government performance it's often been said that it's still apartheid's fault or the reason that it happens is for apartheid. So I think it's very much the same in this case, that it's being used as a typical allegation to hide behind some real reasons.
POM For example, things that I've heard are allegations made where that in part the crime rate is so high because there are still senior police officers of the old order who are allowing crime to happen, not pursuing it, not deploying police in the proper way, that departmental delivery is slow because there is still obstructionism among certain ranks of white civil servants. There is a laundry list of things that can all be laid still at the door of the old regime, as though your tentacles were still in there everywhere and you had control of what was going on?
RM I think that is really nonsense. If there would be civil servants today that also served under the previous government and who would be negatively inclined to the new system then it might be, if there are such individuals, then it would be out of their own inclination and nothing else. I can't imagine that now three years after April 1994 there could still exist an organised form of this nature that is allegedly existing. I think that is really pure nonsense. And the kind of crime is visible for everybody to see. If a person gets shot in a robbery then I can't see how that is being organised through the hands of those that would like to see a perpetuation of crime other than criminals themselves. So I really think that is taking it really beyond any imagination.
POM So you think this is an excuse that is used by the ANC to cover up its own lack of competence in many cases, or to offer an excuse to its constituency that it's constituency will easily buy into?
RM I think that's a way of trying to explain the mistakes and the faults and the reason for non-performance. As I said, where individual cases might occur, which I would also doubt because civil servants had the opportunity to leave the civil service already over the last three years through voluntary retrenchment packages and so forth, which of course happened in many cases. So it would only be the odd exception where you would find still a person who is rebelling against the new system and would still find him or herself in the civil service. But there might be such examples, I wouldn't deny that, and then I think one should measure it on the basis of the ad hoc example and nothing else.
POM How about the so-called existence of moles in the ANC who now occupy cabinet positions in what is for all practical purposes an ANC government? Does that allegation surprise you? Do you think there is much credence to it? Do you think, as I said, the ANC is beginning to prepare a counter-strategy by saying this again is part of the counter-revolution where people are trying to sow discord among members of the organisation and have us engage in internal witch-hunts?
RM Can I say at the time of my own occupation of a ministry, while I was still the minister in other words in any of my portfolios before 1994 and thereafter, I was never aware personally of any such informants and I refer to my period as deputy minister as well as to my period as minister of, for instance, defence. So if there were such spies or informants they were not known to me as minister at least at that stage. But according to the information that has been coming through in the press it seems that it is true that there were such people and that some of them might now still be active in politics and some of them even in government positions. Whether it's true or not I think time will tell us but according to the evidence apparently given to the Amnesty Committee as well as allegedly what was given to the President himself at an earlier stage it seems to be true and we will just have to see what happens now.
POM But if it was given to the President himself and he took no action on it, he decided in some way that - ?
RM Well allegedly some information was provided to him but that he was requested not to take action on it. Now whether that is true or not time will tell but there was such a report recently that that was the fact.
POM What impact, if it did turn out that there were senior members or that there are senior members in government who were police informants, what impact do you think that would have on the ANC itself?
RM Well there are probably two things, the one is internally I can imagine it could cause them big problems because it would raise a question-mark about the reliability and credibility of all those who were involved in the struggle if this is true, and on the other side I think it would raise questions at the political level about the trustworthiness, so to speak, of people in senior positions now in government all over. So I think it could mean some difficulty for the ANC in general, both internally and politically speaking to the outside.
POM Do you think it could have a destabilising effect on the government or that the organisation is strong enough to contain, manage and control it?
RM I guess it would not have such a major effect that it will really disrupt things. It might have temporary effects but not in the longer term except that I think it can be a contributory factor towards, let's say, opening up chances for more flexibility in the political scene, like there are other causes as well. We are seeing more and more factors playing into the scene as far as the cohesion of the ANC is concerned.
RM Like recent appointments for instance that were made within the structures of the ANC to government to parastatals and others that caused some strong reaction within the ANC because of allegedly the so-called Xhosa factor and then there are of course other things like personality clashes and so on. Then there's the old thing about the competition between the so-called exiles and those that were in the UDF struggle, the typical thing still between the Unions or COSATU as such and the ANC as such. So all those things are playing more and more of a role and this particular aspect of the informants I think could also be a contributory factor, but I'm not saying that would now suddenly cause a split in the ANC but in the longer term it could be an additional factor.
POM Let's take that to the National Party and first of all talk about the rather vehement attacks that were made on FW first by Hermann Giliomee and then by Die Burger particularly regarding his statement in London that he had surrendered, that one of the most difficult things he did in his life was to surrender Afrikaner sovereignty, and that seemed to take the lid off resentments that had been there for a period of time but haven't expressed themselves in such an open way. One, why do you think the whole thing erupted at this point in time? Two, what got him into trouble: was it one Afrikaner or, I think two have suggested to me, that what got him into trouble was the use of the word 'surrender', that surrender is not a word that Afrikaners use, it implies giving in. Three, I think Simon Barber begins a column that is on Patty Waldmeir's book which says, "Could FW de Klerk have negotiated a better deal for the Afrikaner with the ANC and did he knowingly deceive his constituency as to what he thought was achievable?"
RM Sorry, what was the question actually?
POM A multi-faceted question. One, why these allegations against FW at this point in time that he has sold out, that he sold out Afrikaner culture?
RM Let us deal with that first. I think, as you put it, why does it come now these kind of attacks on FW? I think one must say that some of it appeared about two or three years ago already, some of those notions towards attacking those who were responsible for the negotiations and at that point it was mainly aimed at myself and the other negotiators. If you look back at what appeared in the papers I think by 1995 more or less you would see that some of these feelings already started to show but it was mainly aimed at myself and others in the negotiations. I think now for the first time these guys that actually attacked FW, saw the time fit to do it and to aim it at him, and I think the reasons are twofold. The one is his own statement in London which you have referred to which gave them the reason to attack him personally on account of what he personally said, and then of course the other one is Patty's book that now appeared. So I don't think it's something new, it is just that they didn't see it fit in the past to actually go for him themselves although they might have felt that way for quite a long time already.
The other reason why it comes up now is that many of these who are making the attacks I think sense a feeling of uncomfortability in the new South Africa and suddenly are looking for those who were responsible as they perceive it. It's also, I think, of particular interest that this is mainly coming from the Western Cape. Now I'm not singling out the Western Cape when I'm saying it, it is just that it is a matter of interest that people in this particular part of the country, I would say, view matters differently to us who are coming from the northern parts of the country and in many respects those that are our colleagues in the Western Cape see it from a different angle to the extent that they wouldn't like to see the new South Africa actually being implemented in the same way here that they perceive it's happening up north in Gauteng and the other northern provinces and so on. I think this is all adding up to the kind of reaction that one suddenly sees over the last number of months against FW and so on but I guess it's something that will go past and I think it's almost over as we talk now.
POM This brings up the question of what's called the Bavarian option here of the Western Cape trying to - the National Party consolidating its base with the coloureds and running against Africans and holding on to power in that fashion. Is there an element of that in party circles here in the Western Cape? And if so isn't it very short-sighted given the demographics of the Western Cape itself? It will have a majority African population by the year 2004 so you can hang on to power in 1999 but after that you're setting yourself up to get not just shot in the foot, you're setting yourself up to get shot in the head.
RM I think there are people, quite frankly, at the moment who would see that possibility as one to consider, the one of the so-called Bavarian option or maybe even something more than that. In other words more autonomy than even the Bavarian option. That there are such people I believe this is probably true but I don't think they are necessarily in the majority even in the Western Cape. If I read the situation correctly even the majority of the National Party in the Western Cape would favour, if we for instance talk about a new political movement for South Africa, they would include themselves into that thinking, into that approach exactly on account of the reason that you have spelled out and that is that it would be very short-sighted to look at the next three years only in terms of retaining power whilst the picture will definitely change over the next ten years or eight years to the extent that the demography will look different and for that reason their argument, which they've expressed to me, is that when we come with something new it should also include the Western Cape.
POM What are the National Party's continuing problems with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission? I say that in two lights, (i), the attack made by I think it was Alex Boraine on the last submission by the party and, (ii) the pervasive belief among most white people that this is some kind of a witch-hunt which is designed to be very one-sided. One, do you think the NP has come clean with the commission and that it has said as much as it can say, and two, do you think that it is one-sided and that it's operations over the last year have shown it to be one-sided and that it is in a way designed to further undermine the NP particularly as you move into an electoral season?
RM The difficulty of course that the Truth Commission has is that it has to investigate the atrocities of the past and of course the previous government and its actions. The previous governments and their actions would be main focus area for those atrocities. It's unavoidable that that is so and therefore much of focus of the work of the commission is aimed at what happened during those years and now suddenly, this is the conflict that I think is existing in the mind of the NP, now suddenly the NP is being held responsible as a party, sort of, for those atrocities whilst the party as such was not necessarily even aware of those atrocities. What I am saying is whether one likes it or not there is a line between the party and the government, like now also in the case of the ANC. The ANC caucus as majority caucus in parliament definitely are not aware of what is happening in government because they are not in government. It's only those few of the ANC who are in government that can be held responsible for government action. And the same here now for the NP. The party suddenly is held responsible for things that the party for the vast majority of it was not even aware took place and therefore there is within the party some resistance, which is natural I think, against the investigations of the TRC. That is the one side of it. The other side, as I said, is the fact that the TRC has to investigate atrocities of the past and it's mainly coming from the previous governments. I think therefore it has a very difficult task to try and keep a balance, to satisfy the need for a balance and to come across as impartial in the process.
I think however the relationship between the commission and the NP was sort of quite solid, unexpectedly so, up to the point that at the beginning of this year when Alex Boraine held a press conference which was perceived to be an attack on Mr de Klerk. I know that he wrote later on that it was not his intention and that he holds FW in high regard and all that. I spoke to him on the telephone myself in which he confirmed that particular view that he holds FW in high regard and that it was not his aim to attack him in person but unfortunately that is how it came across and that was on a particular matter, namely the Steyn report, the Pierre Steyn report. That I think soured things but in the meantime FW has gone to see the Bishop again and they had an open discussion inter alia on this matter and we will have to see how it proceeds from here. There is still some time left and I just hope that the direction to be followed on both sides will be of such a nature that we will be able to contribute from our side towards the work of the commission in a way that will help them to find the truth.
Now you also asked about whether our submission so far has served that purpose and has in fact contributed to the functions of the commission. I think if one looks at our first submission which was made in August last year, the intention of that submission was to give an overview of the history of apartheid almost, where it came from and what happened and how it was in the final instance stopped by FW. Specific detail in relation to specific events and incidents, atrocities, were not necessarily dealt with in that particular first submission. I think more of it will come to light in further submissions which are now being prepared and of course then the commission also asked a lot of questions to which there will be responses and there will be an opportunity for oral evidence and inter-action with the commission, formally, which will I think take place in May this year. I think through that the air would be cleared and I hope that one can also see to it that that information would be put forward that would satisfy the needs of the commission on the one side, and on the other side ensure impartiality into the process.
I think the other question that you asked is whether there were any shortcomings regarding the positions of the National Party vis-à-vis atrocities are concerned. I would say that one thing I think that was obviously lacking so far is the question of what did people in the previous government do to really prevent the atrocities as they occurred and I think that question has to be addressed as well, in other words how did the structures operate and what could have been done to make it clear what was done and what was not done in that process. I think that's a specific area that further has to be focused on in regard to that and to accept in some cases that there was probably not sufficient action taken.
POM I asked all of the commissioners, I spoke to three of four of them, whether they regarded apartheid as being a crime against humanity and they all were unanimous in saying that it was. Do you believe that it was? Do you believe you were part of an apparatus that in fact was committing a crime against humanity in the way it was degrading, torturing, taking away the humanity or denying the humanity of other human beings in a very systematic and thorough way?
RM For myself I can say that was definitely never the way that I perceived it and as far as the law is concerned of course there is no provision for such an assumption, for such a judgement in terms of South African law, also not at the moment neither do the constitution nor the Act providing for the Truth & Reconciliation Commission contain anything of that nature. So I would argue that we should actually go back to the basis of what we agreed upon in terms of the overall settlement regarding the new constitution and regarding matters like the conflict of the past. And the best way to sum it up was actually contained in the postscript to the interim constitution and if that approach is to be followed, which I think is the correct approach, then we should actually find the answer.
POM The postscript said?
RM The postscript said we come to an agreement to resolve, or we have come to an agreement to resolve our conflicts of the past on the basis of what is in the interim constitution and to put behind us what is behind us, to deal with the remainders of that conflict in such a way that will ensure reconciliation and unity of the nation. One can look at the postscript in terms of the actual wording but that is essentially what it means. I think to now go into a frame of mind that would go beyond the actual intentions of the postscript would do more harm than good, would not provide us with an answer as far as the past is concerned and less so as far as the path of reconciliation forward.
POM Do you think there is a bent in that direction? That as the commission concentrates on perpetrators it's almost exclusively perpetrators of actions carried out by members or former members of the security forces and implicitly therefore involves the government of the time?
RM Sorry, just frame that again.
POM Do you think - I've forgotten the question myself. Do you think that there is already a bent in the direction of the TRC insofar as it is concentrating mostly, at this moment at least, on perpetrators who are either members or former members of the security forces and therefore implicitly involves former NP governments if only because they were at the top of the structure?
RM It would be difficult to say what would come out of this, not specific indications have come out of the commission's mind, so to speak, yet. In other words it's difficult to read in what direction they are specifically going except for an odd incident here or there. So I would refrain from comment on that particular possibility at this stage. What I would like to emphasise is that I think they must keep to the Act and they must keep to the postscript of the interim constitution because if they do that I think everybody would be comfortable with the result that they are going to produce and that is to investigate, to bring forward the truth but also to ensure that they lay a basis for real reconciliation.
POM I remember you saying to me before that on your trips into Soweto that among blacks that the TRC never came up as an issue. What about your friends, the people you socialise with, is it a topic of conversation or is it something that is quickly glossed over so that people can get on to talk about rugby or cricket or the success or lack of success of the particular sports team or some other less, I won't say threatening, less discomforting conversation?
RM It all depends on the level of the news and the newsworthiness of what is coming out. I can recall that at the time of the De Kock trial there was a lot of discussion about that but generally speaking when there is not, for instance, such a trial or specific evidence led before the TRC one would not have that as a regular discussion subject. My overall impression so far is that in the white community people are probably, so to say, more affected in terms of what they hear about some of these atrocities I think simply because of the fact that they can't believe that it actually happened so they are shocked that it could ever happen and it happened almost under their noses.
POM Do you subscribe to the theory that most white people have tuned out, that they are tired of hearing the tale of one more atrocity upon one more atrocity and it's like - get on with it and we've had enough of it, what's the point of exposing one more atrocity?
RM I think people would like to see it come to a close. They probably hope that the whole story will emerge soon so that we can get over with it.
POM Do you think it has resulted in any feeling of guilt among the white community at large, that they should have been aware of things that were happening or do you think they have divorced themselves in a way and look at the actions of De Kock or Joe Mamasela or Cronjé and say, oh my God these are awful acts but they really have nothing to do with us; that there is nothing that they have to apologise for?
RM I don't think there is necessarily in general the approach to say let us distance ourselves from that, we didn't authorise it and therefore we can just walk over it. I think there is rather, that is my reading and I may be wrong, but my reading is that there is generally rather a feeling of we can't deny overall responsibility because although we might not have been aware of this it is true that we voted for a government that intentionally or unintentionally allowed these things to happen and therefore we can't stand away completely and distance ourselves from this, but we are at the same time grateful for the fact that we were allowed the opportunity to get the country out of this, that we were allowed the opportunity to change ourselves and that we could take part in breaking that order down and replacing it with something new. Maybe when I am speaking I am talking for myself, but I just have the feeling that that is probably the overall view of the general white community, Afrikaners in particular.
POM The party itself and what appears to be this dichotomy on the one hand of there being one element set up to strengthen and consolidate the position of the party and a committee established under you which is to seek ways to establish a new movement, do you find any contradiction between the two?
RM There is a dualism, unavoidably so, because if we want to succeed establishing a new political movement it would inevitably mean that the NP will have to go up into that.
POM Will have to?
RM Go up in that. In other words that the NP would become part of this new political movement if we want to succeed and therefore it is something of a contradiction to say, so it appears that we are building the party on the one side and on the other side building a new political movement. There is very little one can do about it because you can't suddenly wipe the party off the table and let it disappear and thereby creating a hiatus before there is actually something new that people can belong to. So we need a transformation there but not a transformation that would mean the new thing will just be the National Party under another name. It will have to be something completely new.
POM Now when you say 'completely new' you mean?
RM I mean a new political movement with new faces, with a new character and with a new political platform which can really be an alternative in the eyes of people. The problem at the moment is especially black South Africans don't see an alternative political home, they only see one, and if they would find that home unacceptable there is nowhere to go and we have to create that alternative with which people can associate and enjoy their stay.
POM Well some people would say that even though there may be supporters of the ANC who are disaffected with its performance, that rather than switch allegiance they will simply stay at home at election time. In other words that their disaffection won't transfer into a behaviour that results in them joining a different political entity and that on the other side you have Inkatha that for all its faults did get two million black votes in the last election and there is no reason to believe why it shouldn't receive at least that number of votes again. Where is your ground for manoeuvrability, where do you find these blacks, where do you start? How do you identify the problem? Do you identify the problem in terms of if we don't transform ourselves we become irrelevant because we are a diminishing proportion of the population and ten to fifteen years down he road we will be getting under 10% of the vote even if every white person were to vote for us because that's the way the demographics are going. Do you view it in terms of we must find a way, and I think we talked about this briefly last night, of dealing with the past in a way that convinces black people that the change is in our hearts and not a convenient change in our heads? How do you set up the parameters of the problem you face?
RM I think the main thing that we face, and that's not only the National Party that is facing this, the country is facing it, the main point that we have to deal with is the fact that we're all coming from a racially divided past and especially now still in party political terms we still have those racial divisions. The ANC is predominantly still a black party, the NP is still predominantly a white party and the same would apply to all the other parties. DP is only white, IFP is only Zulu traditionalists, and so the whole spectrum is covered with racially divided remnants of the past, politically speaking. What we need to do is to break that up and to ensure that party formations are established on the basis of the new constitution. We have broken the divisions, the racial divisions of the past through the new constitution and we should let the same happen at the party political level and that is why the main emphasis of what we're trying to do is to actually ensure that we bring together black and white in the same political formation on the basis of what they agree upon and on the basis of what they disagreed on in the past or on the racial divisions of the past.
POM The last question, is FW now fully committed to this transformation process or is there again a dualism?
RM He has always been a pragmatist and I think his pragmatic mind tells him there is no other way, but at the same time probably his biggest fear is that if he let go too fast on this new road he might cause a split in the party and that is the last thing he would like to see happening. So that is the conflict in his own mind. So pragmatically he is in favour of going the new road because he knows that that is the reality but on the other hand he wants to keep it in such a way intact that there is no split.
POM I'll leave it there because I know you're in a hurry, but I'll be back. I'll see you in May.