This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
23 Jan 1998: Wessels, Leon
POM. Leon when you appeared before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission you said, and I quote, "I didn't believe the political defence of 'I did not know' is available to me because in many respects I believe I did not want to know." Then you say, "In my own way I had my suspicions of things that caused discomfort in official circles but because I did not have the facts to substantiate my suspicions and because I lacked courage to shout from the rooftops I have to confess that I only whispered in the corridors. It was foreseen that under those circumstances people would be detained, people would be tortured, everybody in the country knew people were tortured." Could you elaborate on that? First, do you believe that the defence of 'I did not know' is available to anyone who served in - ?
LW. No absolutely not. In my original text I said, "We did not have that defence", but when I saw how people were reacting who gave evidence before me it in a way annoyed me and then I said publicly, "I now delete the word 'we' and I substitute 'I'." I still believe it's not a defence we have but there is a big difference, there is a public difference on that so I thought well then I'll just say I. Many little things but all add up to pretty serious things. ... in 1973, 1974 I think it was in Botswana with a letter bomb. Now over the years one had your doubts about the explanations given. Steve Biko, the way Steve Biko was killed in 1977, in 1977 the official explanations, the inquest and the stories and the rumours and the Dulcie Septembers and the Websters and there were so many stories and rumours around. Those incidents, events, caused discomfort in official circles and you had your doubts about the explanations. But as I said, you either didn't have the facts to substantiate your suspicions or you didn't have the courage to jump from the rooftops. For many years, for ten or twelve years at least I had my doubts about the Steve Biko case but what was there to say over and above the official inquest, the responses, the little cynical questions you would ask, the little statements you would make in the corridors of power, so to speak? And those were the things which I had raised and I had said at various times, the state of emergencies in the mid-eighties. Well I simply don't believe anybody has that defence and those who didn't have suspicions were half asleep on their jobs. What I said about PW Botha when he attacked me on that statement I said it just proves that he was even more isolated.
POM. He did attack you?
LW. Yes he did attack me. He attacked FW, Pik and myself, the three of us for different reasons and he said if I had these suspicions why did I not raise them and if I had these suspicions why did I accept public office. My response to that simply was that he was forgetting the speeches I had made in caucus, he was forgetting the conversations I had had with him, comfortably forgetting about that where I had raised exactly those suspicions. I had made a speech in 1986 in the caucus where I had said somebody is hurting our people out there in an organised manner and they are not serving our cause, our cause at that stage being to discredit the ANC to build credibility against the revolutionary forces and whoever was involved in this hurting our people, the citizens out there, was not serving our cause. And now that clearly was an indication of suspicions I had about not third force activity but police activity. I raised those questions with Louis le Grangé, I raised those issues with Adriaan Vlok. They individually and collectively all promised enquiries and inquests which was there, Generals had looked into the facts I had presented them with and the responses had always been, well it's unsolvable, we do not know. White men with balaclava caps driving into Kagisa Township assaulting people wherever they find them, things like that. Those were the suspicions one had at the time.
POM. But PW, you raised them with PW?
LW. Yes, definitely, well I mentioned the speech I made in caucus. There was another matter I raised with PW where I had complained to him about the way children were detained. The one instance that I remember clearly was a young man who had been detained for 18 months, had he been found guilty in a court of law for what he had been detained for he would never have received a sentence of 18 months, and I told PW that and PW said to me, "Well we have not achieved anything with these detentions", the detentions being the detentions to stop the violence during that unrest period. There were thousands that were detained. He said, "We have achieved nothing except making the people bitter."
POM. Bitter at?
LW. Bitter at the system and mobilise them against PW and the National Party and so forth. And he was very sympathetic about my attempts but clearly he didn't know how to deal with it. So those rumours were there. There was another occasion where I spoke about the secret projects where I had said to him that in 1978 he, PW, had become Prime Minister on the basis of good government and clean administration and he had cleaned out all the so-called information scandal secret projects and set rules and motions in place how to deal with secret projects, and I said this is now ten years later and this whole thing has come back at us exactly the same way it manifested itself in 1978.
POM. So in cabinet would - ?
LW. This was not in cabinet. I was a deputy minister and those statements I made in my capacity as deputy minister in discussions with PW, Louis le Grangé and Adriaan Vlok personally over and above the speech I referred to that I made in caucus when I was not a member of the executive.
POM. Vlok's was a blanket denial that he ever thought anybody was abusing.
LW. You're referring to his testimony in front of the Truth Commission? I'm hesitant to comment on what Vlok said, to speak on his behalf, because he is in a difficult situation. He was sitting next to lawyers, the lawyers who are preparing his amnesty application. In other words everything he was saying was being bounced and considered against that background and he would often say, "Well during my amnesty application I would say more to continue the discussion", so I don't believe Vlok has spoken the final word. In essence they were saying - in essence, Pik, Vlok and Roelf were not saying, as I suggested, that the defence of 'we did not know' is not available to us. They were saying we should have done more, we should have been more alert, we should have been more vigilant.
POM. It's like a hindsight excuse more than - Why has FW in his various submissions, do you think, had so much trouble, I won't say coming clean, but rather than saying apartheid was a noble experiment that failed and things went wrong, saying things went horribly wrong, awful things were done, we as a government collectively accept responsibility for that and we apologise for it, there is no excuse, no excuse for the tortures, no excuse for the murders and we admit that openly and cleanly?
LW. Well I think FW's whole approach on this issue is a complex and a difficult one. It's a legal mind looking at all the points and all the arguments and if he says A what will the innuendo be to it, if he says B what inference will be drawn negatively against the party, against his background and so forth. So on the one hand he doesn't unequivocally and unambiguously apologise for apartheid saying that apartheid was a mistake that blighted our land, because he believes if he makes that statement it is an indictment against his father and those who served in that cabinet. So he never managed to get around that one. He was always carrying that baggage along with him. When you look at the TRC in particular and these horrible deeds that were committed he was always saying to himself, I, FW de Klerk, was never a securocrat, I never ever took those decisions, I was never part of the kitchen cabinet, of the inner circle, I do not know what went on. And against that background he always was carrying the PW Botha baggage along, trying to defend PW and the impossible by saying well I didn't know, I wasn't there, I wasn't a party to it. Now the one statement, I don't think it has ever come across publicly well, but which I thought was - well that was his view and I thought it could have been handled differently - but it was always his view that he was not going to defend anybody who committed a crime in the name of the state such as murder and he was adamant about it. Whilst in that respect, and to some extent I made that statement, I have a much softer approach than FW has on this one albeit he doesn't come as clean as he should be. People are not judging him favourably because he doesn't have a noble point of view there in that respect.
. I always said, and I said that publicly in that commission, we cannot disown the Eugene de Kocks and those guys because we were on the same side and we have to acknowledge that we have managed them badly. If we had not managed them badly there would not have been this conflict of interest, they claiming we gave them instructions, we claiming we never gave them instructions, we were never party to that. So we have to acknowledge they were badly managed but we cannot disown them because we were on the same side. What were we doing? We were in a battle against terrorists, against the revolutionaries. Be that as it may that was our view.
. So in a nutshell, I'm not sure whether I've said this before to you or not, but I have in my mind the view that first of all we were never party to, and I was never party certainly, to any decision which cannot stand the test of judicial scrutiny and the test of daylight. Certainly what we were doing would not stand the test of constitutional scrutiny as we know the constitution today but I believe whatever decisions we took individually or collectively will stand the test of daylight and of legitimacy at the time. Having said that there is no way that we could condone any of those horrible deeds and acts but we cannot sit in judgement and condemn those horrible deeds of De Kock and Coetzee and say well you know I never knew them, who was De Kock? I never met De Kock. I certainly never met Coetzee and others and I certainly never gave them instructions but the fact of the matter is, and that I also said, Eugene de Kock was right. Any politician who believed that we were holding power because of our persuasive talents was misjudging the situation. We were holding power through force and that's why I made a big, big statement that certainly everybody knew. I don't understand how people can say well we didn't know.
POM. In a way what I'm trying to get at is the concept of ministerial responsibility and accountability like, say, under a European system in Britain, and the case we would take would be Lord Carrington who kind of missed the fact that the Argentinean ships were heading towards the Falklands and he walked into parliament and said, "I should have known, I didn't know, I resign."
LW. The fact of the matter is if - well let's not complicate the issue, if the facts about Vlakplaas were publicly known and disclosed in parliament at the time those acts were committed no politician would have survived that at that time. In other words, can you imagine parliament reconvenes in February and you have that no confidence debate in February, a member of the opposition says, well I have the following facts: these acts were planned, committed, executed from Vlakplaas. You, Mr Minister, you voted, we gave you so much money in your budget for secret projects, for projects involving Vlakplaas, you are accountable, let's have an investigation on it. We will get a judge to sit on this and establish the facts and if those facts are made public and accepted before the end of that session that particular minister would not have survived that session of parliament. It's as easy as that. I've been through that exercise and that's the way I thought about it. Mr Jimmy Kruger made a statement, a sad statement about Steve Biko, and he didn't survive his ministerial position.
POM. Because of that?
LW. Yes absolutely. It was always denied but clearly I think that was the major reason why he was removed from cabinet.
POM. Looking back, why did things go so terribly wrong?
LW. Is that the question? Because that's a huge question. There are many reasons for that and I'm not sure that I'm on top of the question. Things did go wrong and I tried to deal with that. I said there was not an inquisitive mindset. The National Party did not have an inquisitive mindset at the time so you would hear the rumours, you would raise the rumour and the NP would in a way, whoever raised those rumours, not side-line but deal harshly with those. Even Niel Barnard said that was not the time to make harsh statements and make wild allegations. You had to substantiate what you were alleging. So there was not an inquisitive mindset, there was not a collective feeling in NP circles, well let's get to the bottom of these allegations. It was more or less as if everybody simply believed that there was this revolutionary onslaught and therefore the end justified the means and the whole notion of security legislation, the lack of information, etc. Let me give you one simple example: I was in the United States in 1985 when a partial state of emergency was announced and much to my horror I knew more of that state of emergency as it was televised in the United States at the time than my family and friends knew when I had returned, and that was the terrible contradiction. People did not know, press limitations, press gags coupled with a lack of desire to know, trusted politicians said that there is this terrible onslaught and we have to deal with it, it's a matter of survival, the ends justifying the means. All that added up to this.
POM. Two things Leon, one, when you say everybody knew about the torture, you mean everybody in government?
LW. I think I've been taken to task because of that statement by state officials and so on saying how can I say everybody knew. I should have said everybody suspected.
POM. Let's says suspected. Does that mean the man in the street?
LW. I'm looking across the board. I'm looking at the white NP support base and power base. The way I put it, I said when you see a lorry load of policemen with sjamboks what do you think they're going to do? Do you think they're not going to use them? That was people armed with rifles and armed with teargas and shotguns and things like that, do you think they're not using it? Do you think it's just a public demonstration? And in that respect everybody knew that this was not a normal society and everybody suspected, or at least should have suspected, that there were indiscretions because the whole world knew. People knew who watched television, who watched BBC news across the world. How come the South Africans didn't know?
POM. So when, as do many of the South Africans that I talk to, white South Africans, say we knew absolutely nothing about this situation and had we known of course we would not have condoned it, it's as if we were brainwashed, is it a kind of a half truth, is there a denial factor still going on that people don't want to admit that they indirectly were complicit in - ?
LW. Let me put it this way, of course they did not know of all the facts that are now being disclosed in front of the TRC, of course they did not know of the De Kocks, etc., etc. They did not know of that. Of course they did not know about all the gory details which were displayed over the television. But surely they knew thousands of people were detained. They did not resist, they did not resist it. I did not either so I'm not sitting in judgement. I'm saying if you read on the television that 4000 or 20,000 people were arrested last night and detained, it must -
POM. Now that would be reported?
LW. That was reported. Of course it was reported. If Steve Biko is killed in abnormal circumstances, so is Webster, so are the Mxenges, etc., etc., that was all reported. The lack of pressing, probing, asking the questions even to the politicians, I know of that because I know those were never questions seriously asked and probed at the meetings and rallies which I addressed and when you just took the argument that wee little bit further by saying Chris Hani is a communist but he's a literate communist, he's studied Latin and he's studied English and he's a guy to reason with and he's somebody that holds power and will be able to persuade people to stop the armed struggle, it was the kind of information people did not like to hear. So in conclusion on this I do believe they did not know but I also believe they did not want to know.
POM. When you go to cocktail parties now or dinner parties or - ?
LW. I must say I don't go, so rephrase the question.
POM. When you socialise or meet with people do they ever bring up things that are revealed at the TRC?
LW. Yes, when I meet people on the street some of them say we never suspected that this was going on, we never suspected that this has happened and we are shocked, and I understand that and I also believe that. But the fact of the matter is that - and people make the following very interesting statement, they say to me, we cannot deny responsibility for this.
POM. They do?
LW. Yes, because we had pressurised you politicians to act against these terrorists after the Pretoria bomb and where are the police, where is the South African government, why don't you stop this unrest, why don't you stop these coercive boycotts and things like that, the intimidation, the victimisation, why don't you stop that, and we were on your backs. Very interesting people who make that acknowledgement today. Right wingers, far right wingers, staunch NP supporters, and I of course agree with that sentiment. They did pressurise us but it's not an excuse for us to run away. We looked at the situation the way we did, we judged accordingly, we put measures in place and it went terribly, terribly wrong because of bad management and bad oversight and because of a lack of really probing all the allegations.
POM. I want to go back to this taking of responsibility, on the one hand there being an acceptance of an implicit responsibility, but on the other hand is there a kind of a distancing factor of saying we didn't know?
LW. Yes that is the majority I would say.
POM. And so does that translate itself into something akin to - had we known of course we wouldn't have condoned it but we didn't know so in that way we are not to be held directly responsible, therefore it doesn't really have a lot to do with us?
LW. Yes I think the latter part is the truth. I would say that that goes for the majority, the majority of people saying we didn't know, we were not involved, had we known we would not have condoned, maybe we would not have done anything but we certainly would not have condoned what was happening therefore just leave us alone, we just want to continue with - I'm not blaming John and Mary Citizen who react and respond like that but I do expect more from Afrikaner leadership. I expect more from Afrikaner press circles like Nasionale Pers, Ton Vosloo and his board and others, I expect more of church leaders. The church is divided on this issue. I do appreciate the fact that Freek Swanepoel in his capacity as Moderator appeared in front of the TRC but with a very divided ambivalent stance: this is what I, Freek Swanepoel feel about it but I really cannot speak on behalf of the whole of the Dutch Reform Church and therefore if this is a mea culpa it's a mea culpa on my own behalf and some of the leadership, it's not on behalf of the whole church. And also the NP. You'll stop me if I'm not on track. But I think a number of things went wrong in the TRC. The first one is that people simply do not understand and we failed to help them to understand that the alternative was prosecutions a la Nuremberg trials and that the process we are employing is a process of amnesty through truth and to seek reconciliation through that, a country must know its history. And that difference between Nuremberg trials and amnesties through truth and reconciliation was not clearly understood.
POM. This is also a negotiated settlement.
POM. If I were a General and elections were coming up and I was called in by Mr Mandela I would say, Mr Mandela if you expect my police force to ensure orderly elections and the first thing that's going to happen after the orderly elections is that you're going to prosecute me, we have a problem.
LW. Yes I know I understand that, I understand that whole debate and I am very much aware of the post-amble of the interim constitution and how it came about and all the difficulties relating to it but in the court judgement of AZAPO versus the State President, Ishmael Mohammed gave a fantastic explanation and that judgment is very much criticised in legal circles right now and that post-amble, in other words the hope and the possibility of amnesty with reconciliation in mind is well illustrated by it and that is the second point that was not well understand that judgment, people just took it for granted that that was the judgment he was going to give and they criticise him severely right now. And in that respect I believe the South African -
POM. Sorry, his judgment was? You're losing me a little bit there.
LW. This is AZAPO versus The President.
POM. Before which court?
LW. The Constitutional Court. The facts were the following: AZAPO said that the Truth & Reconciliation Bill is illegal and is not constitutional because it opens the door for amnesty and it opens the door for people not to be prosecuted and that is wrong. That was AZAPO's case and Mohammed said let's get things straight, if there was not a postscript in the interim constitution opening the door for amnesty and reconciliation through amnesty there would not have been a constitution and there would not have been a miracle. Now that whole debate is not well understood in white circles in particular and in that respect I think that was something which went wrong in the truth and reconciliation process. People still do not have a clear understanding of how that came about.
POM. So when you look at the TRC at this point of it being 18 months in operation and wrapping up at the end of July, how would you, following its proceedings, judge its efficaciousness in terms of (a) truth, (b) justice and (c) except in individual and very moving cases of reconciliation between victim and victimiser is it achieving - ?
LW. I still believe it's too early to judge. One will have to wait for the final report really to judge that but it has been a gallant and a courageous exercise to open the dark room of the past, so to speak, and to enlighten South Africans about what has happened. But one will have to wait and see the final report, how will that really accommodate on the one hand the victims and on the other hand the perpetrators because that will be the tricky balancing act in this whole reconciliation process.
POM. That's not necessarily - again when I talk to my limited sample what comes across among blacks is that the more they have heard or hear or see particularly on television of security people describing in detail how they arrested, tortured, braaied, burned, disposed of bodies, sat around drinking beer without any show of remorse, which the Act doesn't call for, and almost looking at their watches saying another ten minutes of this and I'll have disclosed the whole truth and I'm out of here and have amnesty. And they are saying something's not right here.
LW. Well that is part of the drama, the amnesty process. The other part of the drama is also how will you compensate and deal with the victims and it's still not clear who will get amnesty and who will not get amnesty. I do believe it's too early to judge.
POM. That's just a feeling they have.
LW. I can understand that. That is exactly what Cheryl Carolus said in response to our evidence in front of the TRC. She said about me that she was terribly disappointed about me because she expected more of me in my submission. She had expected that the others would deal with it the way they did but she had expected more of me and she said why and so on and so on. Her argument is that people are developing the idea that this is a commission for the perpetrators and not for the victims and that the whole truth is not coming out and she registered her reservation in that respect. So I am aware of the fact that there is a concern in that regard.
POM. Among whites I find that they increasingly believe that this is one-sided and they are getting sick and tired of hearing about it day after day. I talked to one man last night and he said, "I never read about it in the newspapers any longer. In the beginning I thought it was a good idea and now I think it's a farce. The way Winnie Mandela was treated, she is as guilty as sin and there you had Archbishop Tutu throwing his arms around her and kissing her and then begging her, 'Please just say it was an excuse'." He found it sickening and when he sees it in the news now he turns it off. They feel that white people as a whole are being held accountable for the actions again of individuals whose actions they would never have condoned because, back to what you said initially, that they are on trial.
LW. That is the kind of response you have and I guess the -
POM. Do you get any of that when you talk to people?
LW. I do, I do, I do get some of that. I don't engage in a lot of these discussions any longer because I just don't mix with these politicians and political minded animals right now but I don't dispute that that argument is being made.
POM. I'm mostly talking about the man in the street.
LW. The man in the street, those arguments are around but you get wonderful other responses as well. My own Dominee, he's a young chap, he's blind, the Pastor of the Dutch Reform Church that I attend, I was told recently by somebody that he has said in a private discussion how important it is that we, the Afrikaners and the church, should actually go and explain and apologise and make a positive effort on reconciliation in this regard. So the other side of the coin is also becoming clearer. But it's crucial, the report is crucial and how it will be handled post the report. The positive thing, argument, which I use to cut all of this short, the discussions in which I don't want to participate, is by simply saying to people that the wonderful thing about the TRC is first of all the country will know its history and secondly we will get to the end of this, because if you look at other experiences where they did not have Truth & Reconciliation Commissions twenty years along the line there were still arguments.
POM. It re-expresses itself in more complex -
LW. It re-expresses itself over and over again and you will find victims who want to start prosecutions and legal proceedings and things like that.
POM. I think Bosnia is a fantastic example, that the Serbs were held to be the bad, bad, bad people and yet it's forgotten what they underwent during World War 2 when the Croatians were the agents of Hitler. They were executed en masse and that was never resolved and that was stored up until forty years later.
POM. We talked about the concepts of responsibility and accountability. On the one hand you have the collective government response, we didn't know, had we known we wouldn't have condoned it. At the same time now in parliament whenever something goes wrong or if there's a scandal or some charge of corruption against the government they immediately point to the ANC and say, you should know, you are the government, government ministers must know everything that's going on in their departments, they are the accountable people, that there's a wicked double standard being played out.
LW. No question that is exactly so.
POM. The National Party in a way, or what's left of it, tries to have it both ways?
LW. It's a political thing. I just sit and smile a little bit on these political issues because that is a political thing. If the ANC is in opposition they will do exactly the same, they did exactly the same. Can you imagine the ANC not being in government and the pensions not being paid out in the Eastern Cape, six, seven, eight, ten years ago? It's a political thing.
POM. To move to general things, working for PW and working for FW, how would you compare and contrast their styles and their modus operandi as leaders?
LW. PW was a very organised man and he was a disciplinarian. He was not a great debater but contrary to what people believe I still maintain that PW was somebody you could reason and talk with. I am told that I was just lucky, I never saw him really exploding and I don't know that side of him well. I did see something of that side of him when he commented on the statements we made in front of the TRC. But FW is very much a debater, somebody who likes to argue, likes to talk, is open to discuss and to debate. I would say that is one of the main features. The other one is that FW was never close to the Generals, so to speak, and PW was pretty close to the Generals. I guess those are the general things I would like to say.
POM. In style of leadership was PW an authoritarian who said - whereas FW would be more of a consensus seeker?
LW. Well they all try to be consensus seekers but none of them were really. They wanted to impose their will on you. PW was very much, I thought I had the answers to this, you see FW it was almost as if destiny had thrust this responsibility on FW and he knew he had to make this quantum leap and he was going to make that quantum leap regardless of what people were going to say. Yet by nature he is a debater and he is open, a consensus seeker, persuade me, this is my argument, do you have a better argument against that. And that was very much his style. But then he was asked to do a second thing which was to lead this whole process of reconciliation. He was to break us out of that mould of stalemate politics, which he did. Then he was asked a second thing: to lead us into a process of nation building, of reconciliation, of addressing the ills of our society and in a way fell short because - I mean it was a mistake to walk out of the government of national unity, he never really got on all that well with Mr Mandela, etc. That was his shortcoming.
. PW on the other hand was also somebody who was more of an authoritarian, he was more of a bureaucrat, of a technocrat assisted by technical people. This is the direction, this is the argument, being well prepared for his meetings based on what his support staff had prepared him for and the meetings he was going to deal with, and then say well this is it, any comments on it? And not really successfully engage you in a debate if you were coming from a different angle altogether. But one should not forget that he did take bold steps in his time and he fell short. He broke us out of that ideological policy mode of saying that this country is a divided country and there is not going to be one citizenship. One should not forget that he said that there was going to be one citizenship in one undivided South Africa. Then he fell short of how should I now deal with that.
POM. Something always interests me and that is the relationship between PW and Mandela and FW and Mandela. My own impression, just from what I've read and been told, is that Mandela rings PW on his birthday every year and wishes him a happy birthday and when they met it was a very cordial meeting and he even made special arrangements regarding his lawyer's fees in the present court case and that he has in a way a certain respect for him that he doesn't have for FW.
LW. I think you're right. I can just speculate on that. I think it starts off with the fact that President Mandela is not vindictive on the one hand and on the other hand Mr Botha understanding and respecting Mandela's status, his age and things like that, whilst FW had to assert his authority in a sense. He was giving up authority and he was giving up power and he had to assert it in another way and the way he was going to make his presence felt was by saying you cannot do without me because I have the expertise of running this country and engaging in debates and in many respects not talking up to Mandela but talking to him and maybe sometimes even speaking down to him, I don't know. That was a terrible mistake. You see the one thing, I say this diplomatically and I say this very politely, but FW was groomed and was polished to be a politician in the Westminster style politics, you stand up in parliament, you debate, you argue, you make your point and then you put it to the vote and the majority wins and you walk out. That's how it works in Westminster and that's how it worked in this parliament when we debated against the United Party, when we debated against the Conservative Party. Suddenly there was a new ball game, if you want to make your presence felt you have to persuade people because you were in the minority and that whole art of understanding black politics was something which he didn't grow up with because of the fact that he was a competent parliamentarian and politician in a different dispensation altogether. He never spent hours and hours in shebeens and -
POM. Even one hour?
LW. I don't know.
POM. I doubt it.
LW. So he was denied that privilege of getting to grassroots and the bottom of South Africa politics, its poverty, its people and so forth.
POM. Will history be kinder to him than in a way South Africa has been? When he left politics it was like leaving with a whimper. It was one day news. It was in the paper one day and the next day it was gone, there were more reviews of Tokyo Sexwale's premiership than there were of De Klerk's presidency.
LW. I certainly want to be kind of FW but I have said on two occasions, the one was in a book I wrote 'The End of an Era', and the other one was in the TRC where I actually made the point that the 2nd February speech was a statesman's response to the outcry of the nation. In other words the nation was making the statement, De Klerk was smart enough to understand that. He was politician enough to understand it. He was statesman enough to articulate it but that was the cry of white South Africa, stop this bickering and get on with the negotiating process, break this stalemate. That was the fact.
. Now I am very hesitant to make the second point but I will make it for the record by simply saying what I was told by an academic friend recently. He said that there are always opportunities and platforms to articulate your passions. He said what are the passions De Klerk is now articulating? There are not many intellectual passions. And he said that now makes him question De Klerk's intellectual passions when he was in power. By that I'm saying De Klerk was a civilian, and I said that in front of the Truth Commission as well. FW, he was not a securocrat, he was a civilian for the rule of law, civil liberties, there is no question about it. More than any of us De Klerk was a very astute politician, he's an intellectual but he did not have those passions. Civil liberties, human rights, the constitutional state, getting rid of discriminatory practices, he did all of that but it was not his passion, it had not been his passion for the years leading up to that dramatic momentous occasion. So I believe history will honour him for what he did and it will also sit in judgement on other things post his 2nd February speech. But on a balance he deserves his role.
POM. I don't know whether you listened to or read Mandela's speech to the ANC conference?
LW. Not all that, I was in Zimbabwe but I picked up bits and pieces of it.
POM. But it was very anti-white. First of all it turns out it was written by Thabo, that's been established through a number of sources including statements by Mandela's official biographer, Anthony Samson who is a British journalist. But it was that the media is out to oppose the ANC: the National Party, the Democratic Party, the UDM are all subversive and wanting to destroy and undermine the process of transformation; NGOs speak for nobody yet they criticise all the time; there are elements of the third force still out there trying to undermine the process of transformation; there are counter-revolutionary forces within the ANC. There was an air of paranoia to it, that's all one can say. Do you think the media are anti-ANC or opposed to them or that the ANC still doesn't understand how the media operates in a free society?
LW. It's a difficult question because there is a lot to be said about is it anti-white, is it not anti-white, is it anti-opposition, is it not anti-opposition, is it anti-media, is it not anti-media, and just to sum it up in one sentence, there is an article written in today's Beeld by Tim du Plessis based on the report of Helen Suzman's Foundation which simply says opposition -
POM. You were just talking about the report by Helen Suzman's Foundation.
LW. It said that African ruling parties don't look favourably on opposition parties and the roles that they play. And that I guess would go for the press as well. But there is another point of view articulated by Professor Boschoff who was a former professor at the University of the North, Turfloop, where he says that in Africa people find it difficult to perceive that the press and opposition parties don't assist the government to govern but rather oppose them because governing is a difficult job and opposition parties should assist them and help them to govern rather than to oppose them. And that is where FW missed the boat on the government of national unity because that was exactly the place where you - I mean Buthelezi is doing that fairly effectively. He is criticising but he is in the government and he is assisting in that respect, to be close to the decision makers and where real power decisions are taken to influence that. But I guess that is part of the second threat, you're dealing with the ANC before Mafikeng and you're now dealing with the ANC after Mafikeng.
POM. When they refer to the third force, do you believe that there are elements of a third force operating?
LW. One will have to define this first because certainly loosely defined there are people around who carry guns and who are not under the control and authority of the police force or the defence force and they may be MK people now.
POM. But this is hardly an organised third force out to restore the old hegemony.
LW. No, absolutely, no there's no question of a third force trying to overthrow the government. It could be elements trying to embarrass the government. I am told that yesterday, not I'm told, I heard it myself over the radio whilst John Robbie and Meyer Kahn were talking to one another on 702, somebody called in and said that he is an ex-member of MK, they are out there, they are armed, they're jobless and this kind of heist that we saw yesterday or the day before yesterday is their way of surviving.
POM. Those are the only skills they have.
LW. Absolutely, and he spoke in very derogatory terms of this government. So there are a lot of things to deal with.
POM. How about the ANC's tendency to blame failure, lack of delivery or whatever on the legacy of apartheid?
LW. They are getting beyond that argument now.
POM. Do you think it's time that they must say - again it goes back to responsibility, we govern the country and even though there is a legacy of apartheid it's now our - ?
LW. They are judged on their performance now. You see, let me tell you something which I believe is absolutely true, I listened to a member of parliament from Harare saying there was a lack of transparency, talking and explaining about the difficulties, and I think that is what is lacking also in this country. What is catching up with the ANC right now is that their members of cabinet have got tight schedules, they're busy, they're engaged and they're not work-shopping and networking and reporting back as efficiently as they used to and they will have to start doing that.
POM. That's to the people?
LW. To the people and explain.
POM. Final reflections, are you optimistic about the future of South Africa? Do you have question-marks?
LW. Well I'm optimistic that South Africa will be an African country, a reasonably well organised, well run African country, but we're not going to be a country as efficiently run and with the growth rates that you experience in some of the first world industrialised countries and you have to adapt to that. If Africa is in your blood that's where you'll stay and you'll do what you can to understand that and to promote that. In that sense, yes, I'm realistically optimistic.
POM. OK. Thank you.