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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Oct 1997: Felgate, Walter

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM     Mr Felgate, we can pick up on a number of points. I spent yesterday evening and this morning with Tertius Delport. We had a long discussion about his whole role in the negotiations, in the CODESA negotiations number one, and then in a subsidiary role after that to Roelf, and his what was called traumatic or dramatic meeting with FW where he said, "You're giving it all away", and FW said, "This is the deal, we either split the party and go to war or - "  My question is, in your dealings with him, Tertius Delport, how did you find him as an adversary, as a negotiator?

WF     Tertius Delport, right. He was one of the National Party negotiators with whom the IFP had a lot more rapport than others. He was always sympathetic to the difficulties we were having in the way in which De Klerk and Roelf Meyer were dealing with the ANC and leaving the other parties to do the best they could do with things already decided. There are a number like that in the NP who were very sympathetic, spoke nicely, but he together with the others, when it came down to the crunch issues, did not deliver. For example, I had a meeting in Durban at the Royal Hotel, I can't remember exactly when, with key members of the NP negotiating team during the process in which the interim constitution -

POM     Would this be after the interim constitution or before?

WF     No during 1993, before the interim constitution was finalised. I will have to wrack my brains now on the issues of whether or not there was a double ballot paper. At that stage the ANC were holding out for a single ballot paper and Tertius Delport, together with the others present who were predominantly NP MPs from this province, KwaZulu/Natal, said that if we did not get the support we needed and if the measures went through as is they would resign their seats as members of parliament. They felt very strongly about it. In the event they never did so, it never came to anything. We had that kind of rapport.

POM     Was it a rapport based in the end that he would accept what the party decision was, even though he might have disagreed with it he would never resign?

WF     Yes.

POM     So in that sense he too was entrapped, in the sense that decisions had been made and he was arguing to an audience sold or to a leadership already sold on a different course of action. So in that sense he was being used? He was a useful tool of the NP.

WF     No I think it's more than that. All parties send out negotiators, they negotiate in good faith, they come back to report to principals. In the meantime the principals had their own discussion with other principals and the negotiators are told, sorry you've got to go back to the drawing board, we can't accept.

POM     Why was he portrayed in most accounts written, by Allister Sparks and Patti Waldmeir, as being the weakling man? The convention of history is that after Gerrit Viljoen had to step down because of health or whatever that 'junior minister Delport took over and in short measure Ramaphosa had disposed of him and established a psychological and negotiating capacity over him', that he was just able to run him to the - mocked him, he had a cold, mocked him for how he - What's the real story on that issue in those crucial days and at the end of CODESA? Was it a matter of either side gaining ascendancy or both sides saying we've got to find a way out of the dilemma we're in so it suits us both to fail?

WF     It's awfully complicated for my understanding of the situation. Delport was drafted in for diplomatic discussions and negotiations. He wasn't present in most of the hard discussions on specific clauses in the constitution where the real conflict was. When it came to such questions as -

POM     This is CODESA now?

WF     CODESA yes. When it came to questions after the IFP had walked out of CODESA, the negotiating council, and the question was how do you deal with the Amakosi and the Zulu kingdom, general philosophical questions on what kind of arrangements could be made, he could be involved in those kind of discussions, but when it came down to actual text of the constitution and the wording of Clause 161 or whatever it was, you dealt with Roelf Meyer, you didn't deal with Tertius. He wasn't drafted in by Roelf Meyer in those discussions. So we didn't know him in the hardest discussions on tough issues, he wasn't very often present. He was more present in general philosophical discussions where the NP was trying to get some kind of favourable response from the IFP on issues. I think the NP camp was filled with a number of people who each in their own way had their own constituencies and that's why they were doing what they were doing. Delport had his constituency and De Klerk had to recognise that that was the case. You can't ignore people's constituencies and the NP leaders in negotiations were all there because they had constituencies all of their own and they weren't bright young men who were promoted into executive positions because of personal qualities. There was a balance of power always. So Delport represented a group of people in the NP whose opinion he expressed and for whom he was a spokesman.

POM     Did a similar situation exist in the IFP?

WF     No the IFP leadership is not put together on a constituency basis, it's put together by Buthelezi on his own decision making process. When for example there was a fall out between him and Gumede who was a front line negotiator, member of the cabinet, he lost his cabinet seat, he lost his negotiating status, he lost his membership of the Central Committee, despite the fact that he had a very considerable constituency behind him. He was a very powerful man in his own neighbourhood, in his own regions. So Buthelezi didn't have the sensitivity.

POM     He lost it because?

WF     Because he was tending towards a compromise position with the ANC and NP in CODESA on CODESA issues. Buthelezi began to distrust his reliability in carrying through the party line.

POM     Where would you situate yourself then in those circumstances? As we talked about before, you were one of the architects of IFP strategy.

WF     Well during CODESA I was the person who went from Ulundi to make sure that the IFP line remained pure, that there was no deviation from it and that the negotiators were remaining harnessed to the will of Buthelezi and that they didn't deviate. So that was my role. My role was not one in which I had a degree of latitude. I didn't opt for that latitude. I didn't see myself as playing that kind of role. I saw myself in a watchdog role with the capacity to grab in where necessary.

POM     How do you put that in the context of, I think this is fairly inaccurate, this ought to be corrected, when we talked the last time when you said that in your prior association with members of the ANC that you thought you had been planted there and that your role was to destroy Buthelezi.

WF     Now you see Oliver Tambo asked me to do that. I don't see how that's related to CODESA negotiations.

POM     OK. So Tambo said to you after, that's the meeting in 1979, the seminal meeting in London, Oliver came to you and said - what plea did he make to you?

WF     He asked me to assist him, Oliver Tambo, to destroy Buthelezi. I was in the IFP and I could undermine what Buthelezi was doing and he asked me to assist him in doing that.

POM     And you said?

WF     I said no I could not do that because at that stage I was predominantly on, let's say, a Christian Institute/Beyers Naudé ticket and it was in that capacity that I was doing what I could do as an intermediary between Buthelezi, Tambo and Biko. I was not in the Buthelezi camp as such at that stage.

POM     How did that work, you working as an intermediary between Biko, Buthelezi and Tambo?

WF     It was predominantly between Buthelezi and Tambo because that's where the real issues lay. Beyers Naudé was a facilitator of that relationship. Biko was very distant and aloof from it, he was jockeying for his own position vis-à-vis Tambo. So I was involved predominantly in making arrangements for meetings between Biko and Tambo but more preoccupied with the establishment of a working relationship between the ANC and the IFP. If that had taken place then the other steps, black on black reconciliation, would have been easier.

POM     Do you find it strange that after all these years and your own 'conversion' or whatever, that the ANC will not acknowledge whatsoever the role you played during those days in trying to be a facilitator between potentially warring or what became warring factors, that they were just silent?

WF     I don't see that any comment is called for. There is no comment called for by the ANC. I don't need them to make any statements. Nobody needs to make a statement so why should they be making any statements on the issue?

POM     Well as an acknowledgement, that yes indeed -

WF     No, I don't need any acknowledgement for that. People in the present cabinet know what I'm talking about because they were part of all the groups that I dealt with. Alfred Nzo was personally present when I met them in Stockholm in 1977 on the first attempt to set up a summit meeting. The Secretary General was there, the Treasurer General was there, Johnny Makathini was there. I'm not making any claim on any position which needs any kind of back-up on this.

POM     I suppose what I'm getting at is that in the interests of historical truth acknowledgements must be made by people who were part and parcel of that historical process. Why is it that those in the ANC who you worked with, who were in Stockholm with you, rather than saying yes indeed Walter Felgate and we worked together and tried to resolve a number of issues, but in a sense they're leaving you out there to twist in the wind.

WF     I'm not twisting in the wind.

POM     I don't mean it that way. You know what I mean, truth means acknowledgement.

WF     But there are a million bits of truth over the last 20 years which could be acknowledged and it's not important. When it becomes important to acknowledge then one does it. There is no issue as far as I'm concerned in these matters. If there is a question of whether they took place at all then people must make their own enquiries. I don't have to defend statements that these things happened.

POM     To turn to something else, this is a question brought up to me in fact by a member of the ANC. This is the continual gripe on the part of the IFP that the Truth Commission is a witch-hunt to nail either Buthelezi himself or senior members of the IFP. Their mantra, Ngubane is somebody I want just to chat to you about, but he is the most moderate of men and he comes back and says, well what about the 400 leaders of the IFP who were murdered by the UDF/ANC or whatever and the response I get when I pose that question to ANC people is that they say, who was in charge in KwaZulu/Natal at that point?  It was Chief Buthelezi who controlled the police. If it was Chief Buthelezi why didn't he make his investigations, why is he asking the TRC to investigate the murder of people where he had the authority and capacity, it was his own police force, to do so himself?

WF     A list was drawn up of 400 leaders who were killed, some put it down as 1000, a list of names was drawn up, but those have not been verified, police docket numbers are put against some names, no attempts are made whether or not those cases have been investigated, what have they come to, whether it's lying on dusty shelves. Claims are made about those 400 or whatever number it is that are talked about. I tried to pin this down, I got a serious debate going in the Peace Committee in which I was active and it was eventually agreed, and Goldstone agreed with me, that if we provided Goldstone with a shorter list of the people we thought would need priority investigation he would most certainly do that. I located this issue of the investigation of those names on the agenda of the Peace Committee and before that could materialise and actually come to anything I had a Central Committee meeting which slammed the notion of this investigation into a number of deaths. Their argument was that Goldstone would do a superficial investigation, come up with nebulous findings and then for ever thereafter people will say, well Buthelezi has not verified the facts. So they refused the investigation by Goldstone, they refused its location on the Peace Committee agenda on those grounds. Then my hands were tied. The two people who dug those things up and then produced those lists they didn't have the capacity nor the personnel nor the time to verify them and they mixed them up together with some lists of some ordinary members.

POM     I suppose a more fundamental question would be why those murders were committed when you had a police force - ?

WF     The capacity of the KwaZulu Police to do that kind of investigation was minimal. These were investigations undertaken by the CID, the armed robbery unit or whoever, special task force units, by people who had the capacity, so there were not people in the KwaZulu Police with that capacity. It wasn't their kind of investigation. They were manning police stations, looking at the ordinary peace keeping and policing duties in villages and in towns. They had a murder and robbery squad but it had nothing like the professional capacity that you would need for this kind of investigation.

POM     Where does Jac Buchner fit in this?

WF     Buchner came to the KwaZulu Police as the previous head of Security Branch. He was a Pretoria appointee because all Commissioners of Police were appointed by Pretoria and not by Buthelezi, and that's about all I know of him.

POM     I've interviewed him for years and he comes across as one of the old time great liberals. He almost suggests that when he went into the privacy of the ballot box that he was the only member of his family who cast a ballot for the DP. Do you believe, that is again now a belief question as distinct from a fact question, do you believe that with regard to things like Caprivi, and we've talked about that before, in relationship to the brutality of what the ANC were doing, do you believe that he didn't know about anything that was going on? Didn't know about hit squads?

WF     Well one finds it difficult if the head of the security police would not know about what the security police were doing and the kind of things because he came up through the rank and file of the people who were doing those kind of things and before he reached the position of being head of the security police he knew what his colleagues were doing.

POM     You can't be the head in Pietermaritzburg and be head of security police and not know what's going on around you.

WF     No it's unthinkable. It may well be that in each specific operation the need to know principle was employed and the head of security police may not have known exactly who did what exactly when and on what day and at what hour, but that these things were arranged and approved of and people were doing them, you can't tell me he didn't know those things. It's just not possible.

POM     In the same way that it would have been impossible for Buthelezi not to know.

WF     I can't imagine anybody in the IFP not reporting on a one-to-one basis to Buthelezi on everything that that person did.

POM     Not just a police person, but there were murders here and murders there, massacres here and massacres there on both sides and a retaliation and counter-retaliations and whatever.

WF     I don't think Buthelezi ever did not claim knowledge that those things took place. All he is saying is that he didn't plan them, they weren't his responsibility, they weren't done on IFP decisions and that is true. There is no single case in which any such decision was made or discussed even at any National Council meeting I've ever been to. It was something that took place out there by somebody who had their own working relationship with whoever they were working with. It was not an IFP official thing from any IFP decision making process.

POM     But was there in the same way that the NP, for instance Pik saying he should have paid more attention and tried to end apartheid before it ended. I interviewed him at length, he's not saying he's sorry, but "I was carrying out on behalf of the country what I thought was the right thing, I didn't consciously plan anything." But then if nobody consciously planned anything where does accountability and responsibility lie - on all sides?

WF     Accountability and responsibility lie with the people in charge. The found it convenient not to do their own investigations and proclaim the truth, in many cases which was the truth, I didn't know that Joe Soap was killed last night, I didn't know that he was going to be killed and, no, I never heard of it being planned. It's quite true.

POM     That's what you said, that Dr Buthelezi could legitimately say, "I did not order this, I did not plan this, but I subsequently had knowledge of but I didn't try to investigate to find out what went on", the very same argument  used by De Klerk, "I didn't plan these things, I didn't have knowledge of them but at the same time I never enquired into what was happening." I think somebody said to me the other day how many bars of soap? And you heard of people falling out of windows on the 10th floor of a prison, or they slipped on a bar of soap. Wouldn't you at least as the Minister of Soap say what brand are they using?

WF     Yes. You're not going to get any further on that enquiry because people like Buthelezi and whoever will legitimately be able to say there was no official party decision, they know of no such decision, there was no organ which made those decisions. If it did take place it was taking place by somebody but they know not who. They can say that very legitimately. They also could admit that they did not pursue the matter, they allowed it's flow because it's happening suited their politics and it was good for whatever they were pursuing. Buthelezi could not spend the time he has spent denigrating the ANC, blaming the ANC for assassination of IFP people, and be intolerant of people who retaliated. So when people retaliated they did what he wanted them to do without him having to say they must do it.

POM     Therefore there was an implicit - in the sense that if retaliations happened, well they happened because if A hadn't taken place then we wouldn't have had to do B, there wouldn't have been a retaliation?

WF     Yes.

POM     Has he got to accept responsibility in the same way as the ANC must accept responsibility for the campaigns they carried out? Why is KwaZulu/Natal so difficult to deal with in terms of any truth and reconciliation process as distinct from the rest of the country?

WF     You predominantly face a situation which Buthelezi has put his mind against participation in the TRC, so has the IFP officially, and the imbalance that creates is enormous because people are claiming violence by IFP but the IFP is not bringing their widows to cry in front of the press, their survivors of violence. So Buthelezi's  arm's distance is creating a huge imbalance in the TRC's work. I don't see the TRC vindictively pursuing the IFP. Buthelezi is claiming that but this again can't be sustained if you are not there in the commission and IFP victims of violence are not there to put their case and to claim their restitution as the case is with ANC victims. The basic thing, I think, is that Buthelezi's whole image is one in which he is not really a pacifist but he certainly claims to have had no participation in the generation of violence. He's been the victim of it all and a genuine across the board look at violence would see, as Anthea Jeffery has seen in her book, that there is violence from both sides. If there is violence from both sides then the IFP has something to be accountable for in front of the Truth Commission and that it's not doing.

POM     Why can't he do that?

WF     Because he doesn't want his name tarnished, he doesn't want the beginnings of things. It's going to, I think, boomerang because after the commission has done its work then come the murder investigations as a result of the work that the commission has done and there's no amnesty and people are going to go to the gallows and to lifelong imprisonment then they're going to talk and there's going to be a backlash.

POM     So you see this as the beginning of - ?

WF     Oh it's the beginning of it yes.

POM     But in the end it will open Pandora's Box?

WF     The box will be opened.

POM     In your discussions with Buthelezi and your planning of strategy and the credit you're given for being the hard-line person, when incidences were happening in KwaZulu/Natal of violence did you ever say to him, "Chief, something's not right here, we've got to talk about this, we've got to find a way of stopping this war. Our party issues denials of any complicity or any involvement in any incident, the ANC say it's the IFP plus the police who are murdering our people but we've a problem."

WF     No I've never had that discussion with Buthelezi.

POM     Why?

WF     Because it's not part of the role I was playing.

POM     But if you were aware of it and you're a close confidant of his then why couldn't you have brought it up at any point that you wanted to bring it up?

WF     I can't quite focus on the question. Buthelezi is there, I'm there, we're doing a million things together, there's violence all around you, I drop dozens and dozens of statements about violence, I sit on Peace Committees, I try and work out ways of minimising violence.

POM     But did you talk to him about what you were trying to do to minimise violence?

WF     Yes, I represented him at the Peace Committee, working for peace, working for the cessation of violence. You can't in that situation have the kind of overall hindsight wisdom as you can now have looking back and being philosophical and summing up things and looking at the implications of specific decisions. You were in the forefront of things, you were doing what had to be done on the coal face.

POM     But if you went to a meeting of the Peace Committee and it wanted to take certain decisions, would you have to report before you could commit yourself to those decisions, take the content back to Buthelezi to get his seal of approval or were you independently empowered?

WF     On the Peace Committee work I know of no occasion other than the occasion of the Goldstone investigation of those short lists of IFP leaders who died. I know of no occasion on which Buthelezi intervened in what any of us were doing on the Peace Committee. Suzanne Vos and I were predominantly the workers in the Peace Committee field. Mdlalose was a member of the Peace Committee and was a luminary there. He did no work at all. I don't know of any indication in which Buthelezi intervened and interfered in the work of the Peace Committee and those who were involved in this.

POM     I suppose the contradiction to me is that on the one hand you had gone public about saying one of the reasons I have broken with this man is that it is because he is an autocrat, he's anti-democratic, he makes all decisions, makes all appointments, he overrules everybody whenever he wishes to. On the other hand you're saying that on some of the most sensitive issues like death, murder, assassination, hit squads, whatever, is that he exercised no authority. The two seem to be dichotomous if not contradictory.

WF     I'm having difficulty in focusing on what we're actually talking about. Are we talking about my working relationship with him and the extent to which I did query some things and didn't query other things? That's one issue you're raising.

POM     The second issue is that if in such sensitive matters as you working on the Peace Committee -

WF     That wasn't sensitive. There was no sensitivity about that whatsoever. It was good for the world to see Buthelezi being represented actively on the Peace Committee.

POM     Who briefed him on what the Peace Committee did? Did you brief him?

WF     I briefed him, yes.

POM     And would you say there are murders here, there are murders there?

WF     No, the Peace Committee had very little to do with murders here or murders there. That wasn't the work of the Peace Committee if you read Peace Accord.

POM     Who advised him on matters of 'security'?

WF     I don't know. It certainly wasn't me. If you read the Peace Accord and you look at the amount of work that went into it and getting all parties to agree to it, it was how to attack the question of peace, not how to solve specific acts of murder. While you're working at the Peace Accord people were killing each other all around us and blaming each other for it, as one would do in a party political situation. But the Peace Committee and the Peace Accord did not involve themselves in the actual work. The Peace Secretariat had its own life, its own initiatives and the Peace Secretariat undertook that sort of front line job of establishing regional peace committees by getting them operating, getting them represented and so on. But the Peace Committee work, that was the establishment of the Peace Accord, had virtually nothing to with the daily occurrences of violence and it wasn't on their agenda.

POM     Was it in the light of your own subsequent statements, has it ever been on Buthelezi's agenda or was the situation of continuing confrontation and the potential of violence something that politically works in his favour that he needs?

WF     I said the other day to you that one of the things that really exercised my mind is Buthelezi's political commitment already made to the Amakosi to have their traditional lifestyle and authority protected under the constitution; it's not going to be possible, he can't go to them and say sorry guys, it's not going to work, we've got to change our minds. He said to me that he would rather die than do that. So we're moving into a situation where he needs an unstable environment in which to generate the kind of pressures which will make people fear what he could do as a sanction against inroads into the authority of the Amakosi.

POM     How would you differentiate between, and I may have asked you this last week, between Buthelezi - remove Buthelezi not even in terms of the National Security Council or whatever but just let's assume he's not there, but you've got the IFP, what happens to the IFP? As a party does it fall apart, does it have enough internal stability, internal leadership structures that can still make it a force of any sort whether in KwaZulu/Natal or nationally or does it simply implode?

WF     Parties very seldom implode. Parties eventually either have a split down the centre and there's a schism in the party or leadership changes. The question is whether the IFP is part of Buthelezi or Buthelezi part of the IFP. Because the IFP is what it is there must be substantial reservoirs of potential leadership which are not coming forward.

POM     Where would you put Ben? How is Ben different from Frank?

WF     I shared digs with Ben at university, I've known him a hell of a long time. Ben only does what is good for Ben's image and I can give you numerous examples of where -   (tape switched off).

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.