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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

04 Feb 1999: Botha, Pik

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POM     I want to ask an unconventional question, which is that in the last year you have had very serious health problems. Have they or did they change your perspective on what's important in your life? Did you come to any realisation that after politics was over there was more than even ex-politics, there was a whole life to be explored that for, I think were you Foreign Minister for 18 years?

PB     Seventeen. And then two years as Minister of Mineral & Energy Affairs.

POM     So you spent the product of your mature years wrapped up in ministerial responsibilities. Then you had this heart problem and then you had your cancer problem and you had to come out of that and then you went to the bush where you stay alone. How has that changed you or has it changed you?

PB     You know when one enjoys good health, up to last year I had not been to hospital for 38 years, so suddenly came last year, the year started in the normal way. I had this invitation from the Oxford Union to come and address them in March and I thought it was an honour that they bestowed on me and then all these problems suddenly start. First the heart, my ventricles, two of my heart chambers, according to the doctors – they have terms to describe this - were not functioning. My pulse dropped to 27 from 72 and as a result of the heart trouble I then had to undergo tests including blood tests and it was discovered that I had a high PSA, Prostate Specific Antigen count of roughly 10, whereas it should have been 4½ at my age, and the doctors suspected either an infection or cancer and then it was confirmed it was cancer and then the cancer operation followed and then one is now living in what they call remission. You have to go every six months for new blood tests to determine whether the cancer has started again.

     Against this background one suddenly finds oneself in a position where you must re-evaluate, re-assess your priorities in life and do so clinically, which is hard because you must forfeit or abandon certain practices, dreams, ideals, objectives and one tells oneself, one says to oneself, "I have only maybe so much longer to live." We all expect death, it is inevitable for each and every one of us but there is a difference. There is a difference between living without knowing that you might have a terminal disease and living with the knowledge that the motor car might run over you tonight. There is a vast difference between being given notice and not being given notice and this being given notice then forces one to re-assess and it is against that background that one then exercises your mind with philosophical aspects. In my case I have pondered and still ponder about the brevity of life for instance, the shortness of life. We are born and about our third year we start to remember that we are human beings. Then you go to school, to university, you get trained, you are young, vigorous, full of all sorts of mischief of course also –

POM     Hopefully.

PB     The women are pretty and that sort of thing and then suddenly you plunge into life. But that takes the best part of 22, 23, 24 years. Now you are, according to the society in which we live, equipped, you are equipped now to take on a job, to prove yourself, to follow a career and become a taxpayer of your country. Then there are dreams, you want a nice house, you marry, you have children, eventually you get a nice car, but everything you do you do in a way as if you will be here for ever.

POM     But you were also so involved in, like, being the longest serving Foreign Minister in the world. You will go down in the Guinness Book of Records for at least one thing. That must have absorbed so much of your time, your energy, even your social life.

PB     That is quite correct.

POM     Outside of the extraordinary, at the time particularly during the eighties and nineties and late seventies, you must have had no time to concentrate on anything except trying to explain South African foreign policy and trying to make the world understand that the difference between – that reform was being done. You know what I mean?

PB     Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I have often thought about it. It's easy now with hindsight to say maybe I should have left politics long ago and maybe I should have done those things that at that stage of my life I enjoyed very much, like nature, I'm very fond of nature, hunting, fishing, even playing golf. I never could play golf because there was no time, as you quite rightly said. I never belonged to a club, I had no hobbies. It is quite correct to say –

POM     You were a workaholic.

PB     It's quite correct to say. I left my office normally at ten o'clock, sometimes twelve o'clock at night. I had very little family life, which I regret very much because that's the one thing you cannot restore, you cannot relive. I can now listen more to music, I have more time to listen to music so I can gain back, I can steal back what I feel I was robbed of, but I cannot bring back my children's childhood days. I cannot bring back family communication and love and care. I missed that, although my relations with my children, thank God, today are excellent. I just feel there's an empty spot there, very, very much so. With my first wife too, she had a hard time. I was always away, always on visits and so on and she had to bear the brunt of bringing up the children, of helping them and assisting them. That is the one thing I regret very, very much, that I miss, I miss that. Apart from that –

POM     When you say you regret it, do you do so – you made a remark during dinner that you spent so much of your life, in fact the prime best years of your life not just in politics but as one of the most important spokespersons on SA and you said it was all in a way for nothing, it was a waste.

PB     No I didn't mean it that way. What I meant was now when I build a wall, a stone wall for instance, after three weeks of hard toil and work I can see the wall, it stands there for better or for worse, but if you look at a Foreign Minister's work you toil as if you build a wall and then that whole wall crumbles in a day because of some unforeseen event but that doesn't mean that you did not regard it as your duty or responsibility to do the work. I have low points in my life but I also have high points in my life and the high points overwhelm, are more, are more important to me, they overshadow.

POM     You enjoyed what you did.

PB     Yes, I derived great moral satisfaction, for instance, from what was called the Nkomati Accord which was an important agreement between us and Mozambique in 1984 when nobody thought it was possible between two governments with such opposing views, and we really had opposing views. The government of President Samora Machel and the government of Mr PW Botha certainly were at the opposite sides or ends of constitutional concepts and politics. I reasoned at the time if two such opposite elements could overcome their obstinacy and selfishness and for the sake of the region of southern Africa, come to an agreement of development under peaceful circumstances, that that was the type of thing I thought that would have a psychological effect on the whites of this country, on the blacks of southern Africa, on the whole of Africa, and it did. We received, my government received at that time and so did President Machel, messages of congratulations from President Reagan, from the Soviet President, from all over the world, it was almost overwhelming. Then you feel a reward. Of course at the back of my mind was also the possibility of the impact on SA namely, if two governments on the opposite side of their thinking and politics can join together why can't the parties inside SA not come together? Why then if I could prove that President Machel's government and my government could sit at the table and could come to an agreement, would that not induce the National Party and the ANC and PAC and others to say, well if they can do it why can't we? We are all South Africans.

POM     Let me move back a little bit on that. In the TRC report when they comment, which in a way makes for sad reading, sad in the sense that they say nobody co-operated with them freely, parties from the ANC to the NP made bland representations justifying their own positions but they didn't throw light on the past, but they singled you out – the only adjectives that were used, because I've read the whole damn thing (I'm a masochist), they singled you out and said there are exceptions and you were one of the exceptions that they conspicuously named saying that you provided them with rich and vivid details of that whole era. One, I would like to get a copy of your submission if that's possible. But the second point is, and probably I've asked you this before but it's OK going back on a question after a number of years, how did you manage to survive so powerfully, particularly during PW's regime, how did you manage to maintain not just your position but your powerful position of power? Why didn't he throw you out?

PB     I think it was very relative; 'relative' is, I think, the correct word. It's very relative, power is a very relative thing. I had an appeal to the people of this country, mainly the white people, but also at that stage, you will be surprised to know, amongst many of our black compatriots. I followed a rather aggressive style which was part of myself.

POM     You told me, we've covered the ground of when you went into parliament and your maiden speech.

PB     And I said to myself, look on the one hand the world exaggerates, we are not that bad, within the Afrikaner is also something good. And I tried to lift out that which I considered to be good. It was our great President Paul Kruger who in his last message, I think, to the nation, the Afrikaners, said, "Take that which is noble in your history and base yourself on that for the future", which by implication means there are also elements which are not noble, discard them, take that which was noble, take that which was good, which was ethically correct, which was morally and mentally and spiritually noble.

POM     If I were State President, especially if I were PW Botha, whom I've only met once and unproductively but politely, I would say, "I want to be rid of this person, I don't want him in my Cabinet", or did he, since you will speak out at Cabinet meetings –

PB     No, but he didn't first appoint me. You must understand in this country once you're appointed to Cabinet minister, and the same will apply to all governments when a new leader comes –

POM     He can fire or hire.

PB     He can but it's very difficult for him to do so. It is very difficult because if a new leader comes along and he just fires X, Y, Z, the newspapers want to know why and gossip starts and it can be very negative for him unless there is an obvious reason on which everyone in this country more or less agrees.

POM     But it's called, the word is 'reshuffling'.

PB     It doesn't matter. You can reshuffle a Cabinet but you still appoint the same ministers. It's like that the world over really and same was here. Unless PW Botha could point out to a cogent reason with which a large number of people would have been satisfied, and I don't think he had one in my case because I was popular in the sense that I was a draw card at meetings. I hate to say this myself, but I used to draw larger audiences than the leader of the party in certain areas of this country and that sort of thing. Why? Because I really told the people the truth. What I said is documented, it's there in rows of cuttings. There they are, my whole life, it's there. Opposition papers, government supporting papers. It's there. And in the United Nations records and in the parliamentary records, in Hansard, and it is known in this country that I warned, at an early stage, I warned that change was inevitable. It is known in this country that already in 1974 I stated at the United Nations, it documented, that I could not defend apartheid.

POM     Or your maiden speech in parliament.

PB     My maiden speech in parliament, I urged the government of the day to subscribe to the universal declaration on human rights. It is known in this country that during my election after I became Ambassador to the United States and came back to this country to become Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1977 I said publicly, not behind the scenes, it's in the papers, that I was not prepared to fight for separate signposts in lifts or wherever.

POM     So why – I am party leader X, doesn't matter whom, so why don't I say I've got to find a way of marginalising this man Pik Botha?

PB     You're quite right, you must find a way.

POM     That despite your opposition, there's a contradiction, that despite your repeated opposition you still ascended to more and more power.

PB     Because a majority of whites in this country felt instinctively that I was talking the truth.

POM     Do you think that PW Botha took that into consideration?

PB     Of course, of course. It doesn't matter what you think of him, he had to be voted into power by the majority of the white people of this country.

POM     But there was only one party.

PB     No, no, wait a bit, that was the party that governed this country.

POM     But then there was no – there was the Conservative Party after the split in 1983 but up to that there was no opposition.

PB     No, but they went so far beyond all reasonableness, they never really attracted that much support in this country.

POM     Do you, when you reflect on your life experience or when you come down to write for yourself, and I hope it's not a self-justification biography like Mr de Klerk's, how did you manage to be on the one hand within government in the inner circle to oppose many things and say we have to do many things, and have your ideas rejected or whatever, and at the same time having to go out there and be the most conspicuous spokesperson, the most visible spokesperson talking about what was happening in SA and justifying if not apartheid –

PB     I'm trying to explain this to you.

POM     Let me finish one thing.

PB     You are repeating yourself once again.

POM     Well, you do the same so we're similar between our wires and our hearts and our vows. I heard you on radio in 1986, on National Public Radio in America, small audience, but you were there saying apartheid is over, it's gone. In fact by the declaration of PW where he made his speech where he said everybody is an African, where he withdrew that if you were a citizen of Ciskei or Bophuthatswana that you were not a South African citizen. So did he see you as somebody where he said, hey, this is exactly the kind of guy I want out front?

PB     Look, you must try to understand, I don't claim that I know how PW Botha's mind worked but he was very well aware of – he came very close to firing me in 1986, the beginning of 1986, when I at a press conference made the remark about the black President, that this country would one day have a black President and, yes, I would be willing to serve under him.

POM     Was that discussed at Cabinet level?

PB     Yes. He called a special Cabinet meeting and this illustrates the point that I'm trying to make to you all the time and that is that he, and I think a majority of my colleagues in the Cabinet, thought that I should go, resign, and he made it virtually clear to me.

POM     A majority of your colleagues?

PB     Yes in the Cabinet, thought there was no way out, that I would not be able to survive that one.

POM     Sorry, they thought politically you couldn't survive it or they agreed with you but said you've just kind of put the nails in your political coffin?

PB     Yes, this last mentioned one, and then they couldn't do it because why? I determined very quickly within a few hours that while I received thousands of telegrams and messages from all over the country, PW Botha received one or two and that made it clear to me that the government was out of touch with the majority of the white people of this country. I was sure of that for years because how else could I have enjoyed the support. The Pretoria News conducted - the Star, that company, Argus - a market opinion some time in the eighties and their results are published: 82% of the whites would have preferred me then as President of this country, or as Prime Minister. I had virtually no support in the caucus of the party, in the organisation of the party, in the party structures. My support was countrywide amongst the people and that everybody knew and the Prime Minister and later President of this country knew it also. Then it's a bit more difficult to fire a guy.

POM     And you were also an internationally accepted figure.

PB     I would like to believe that. I had good relations with the leaders.

POM     You showed the better face, for lack of a better word, you showed the better face of apartheid. You were enormously articulate, even if you don't like the word but I know probably you believe it, charming, persuasive. So I would put you as Foreign Minister of anything even if I disagreed with everything you said because you can present the presentable face of SA to the world rather than the baddie one of being –

PB     But I think leaders and persons like Dr Kissinger, Genscher of Germany, later Douglas Hurd and Peter Carrington, Margaret Thatcher, the French leaders, the African leaders, leaders like Houphouet-Boigney were friends of mine, even people like Dr Kenneth Kaunda and others, we knew each other and they knew what was the idea, what was the dream, but they were also aware of the reality of politics at a given moment in history and of party structures. A person like Dr Kissinger knew that those were my public statements and they welcomed it, they saw in it hope for the country to move away from it. My policy, my strategy was to try and persuade the so-called western democracies to give us time and a chance and every time we did something here which they could applaud to say so loudly and clearly so that I could go back to my colleagues and say, you see, if we do the right thing there will be support internationally; because I had to battle inside this country against a presumption that it doesn't matter what we do the world will reject it, will slap you in the face. I said no, if we go about it fast and remove apartheid step by step you will get the credit, but because of the sanctions policies of many countries in the world in fact I can say to you today that they delayed the change because if I had more ammo to show to the whites and particularly the government and the party stalwarts, to prove to them, look man, if we do the right thing, if we do repeal that law of discrimination we will get the credit, we could perhaps have moved faster.

POM     Again I come back to one of the questions that will always fascinate me and I will probably never know, is that what accounted for your virtual political indestructibility?

PB     Support, support of a substantial number of people in this country and the leaders were aware of it. Of course they're aware of it, there are the newspaper cuttings. They see my photograph, they see a hall attended by 6000, 7000 people.

POM     Did PW Botha ever feel threatened by, my God, at the next party conference.

PB     No, not party conference. There I could never beat him.

POM     You couldn't? OK.

PB     If we could elect the President as they do in the USA I could have beaten him, not because I say so, independent opinion polls the results are published, it's there to be seen by everybody, but that is the one thing that they would have prevented at all costs because within the party ranks naturally there was a feeling that in a way I was a traitor. PW Botha even the other day said Kissinger and I and others some others belong to some international mystic, mysterious group.

POM     Bohemians.

PB     And then it was Foreign Affairs Council and then there was another one.

POM     Sorry, De Klerk is that or PW?

PB     No, PW said it just now, just now recently when he was asked about me, he said, "Yes Pik Botha probably belonged to this international group", which does not exist. Such a group does not exist at all but there are people in this country who believe him and you know what you believe, to you unfortunately that is the truth. The result is that, as I said before, I felt very much at home in addressing a public meeting whereas in the caucus I had a hard time. Most of the time I had to explain why I said what I said publicly, why I said in America on ABC or CBS this and this and this and this, why did I say this in Britain, why did I say this in Japan. It can be interpreted by the NP as if I am throwing in the towel, want to sell the country to the blacks, to the communists and things like that. They watched me very, very closely.

POM     They being?

PB     But when election time came - I can show you my programmes of previous elections. I had to address 43, 52 meetings in three months.

POM     Well I went with you if you recall, one day and we had two jets and three helicopters and that's when I began to trust you completely because you did something, and I'll say this on the tape and probably excise it myself, you landed in some place in the Western Cape just on grass, to the left there was a gathering of people all mostly middle class women to whom you are a charmer, and you walked away from the helicopter and went the other way and you pissed into the veldt. I said, "This guy is for real." That's my standard of judgement. That's when I trusted you, when you peed because you didn't pee with the wind, you peed against it and then you walked right back and went up and addressed the crowd and addressed three crowds. We were the whole day together, but that is one of those things that stands out in my mind indelibly and for ever, was you unzipping your trousers and peeing the wrong way because if you peed in the right way you would have been with the wind towards the crowd and of course you couldn't do that. You had to stand there and look at the veldt and kind of say I'm appreciating nature.

PB     One learns throughout life. I think we'll keep on learning if I look at the new technologies. The old days are over when you used to go to university, pass your degree and start life. It's over. From now on we are at university until we die with the computers, with everything, penetrating even the human mind.

POM     Let me go back on two things. One would be your relationship with PW which sounds one of a slight degree of turmoil.

PB     Not always.

POM     And then your relationship with De Klerk.

PB     There's a difference.

POM     And the end question is, is PW being under-estimated by history, by the reforms he introduced or tried to introduce? Two, De Klerk in his book now sets himself out as being a closet liberal all the time but in order to climb the tree of power he had to appear to be hard-line but he wasn't really hard-line, he just kept his mouth shut so he could climb the tree of power. Those two.

PB     PW Botha was certainly more pragmatic, he was a practical man with a militancy in him. He was in the first place, I think, a military leader and I think he saw the struggle in SA as a military struggle.

POM     Also communist versus anti–communist.

PB     Sure, it's part of the military struggle.

POM     He believed that. There's no doubt in your mind, he still says it, some of his statements even today bring out this kind of evangelical Christianity which is almost 40 or 50 years out of date.

PB     But you see, again, if you believe that it is very difficult to persuade a person to adopt a different attitude unless you can persuade him that to take this step now will actually be furthering your real objective. That required strategic planning on my side very often because one of my greatest ideals was to negotiate the departure of the Cubans from Angola and to set Namibia on the stage for independence. I consider that the most rewarding experience of my life. It overshadows everything else I might have done or might not have done and it was very, very difficult but luckily, because Namibia was not part of SA internationally speaking, it had a separate independent international status so to say, I could get away with it by persuading PW Botha in the end that the burden on us is too big. But what I did was, I said to him if the price we must pay is the independence of Namibia for Cuban withdrawal then we have a tremendous case vis-à-vis our voters because the voters' sons were dying in the bush in a war and that is a serious matter. If your children are dying it is a serious matter.

POM     Body bags.

PB     I didn't misuse it but I saw that these are the important components of a potential agreement between us and the Cubans which no-one would ever have believed. If you would have asked anybody, I think way back as recently as 1987, whether that would be possible they would have thought that there must be something wrong in your mind to think that we and the Cubans could sit together and come to an agreement, and we did it. I thank God that I could play a role in that. That to me was the most rewarding experience of my life. But the fact of the matter is, PW Botha did allow me in the end, it was difficult, extremely difficult, to get around some of his arguments but in the end he did allow me to conclude that agreement. December 1988 I signed it in the UN Headquarters and then there was no turning back, there was no turning back. Soon thereafter he had this stroke, became ill, De Klerk eventually became leader of the party and then President of this country. But from my own personal experience, and it's not I who is talking to you now, I think you can check with virtually any of my colleagues, will confirm that Mr De Klerk was probably one of the most conservative –

POM     We were talking about PW.

PB     Both, we're talking about both. I started saying that PW Botha was a military leader but when it came to internal SA politics he was more liberal than De Klerk. There's not the slightest question about it. It was a man like PW Botha who said publicly, "Do the whites adapt or die?" It was a man like PW Botha who attacked Dr Andries Treurnicht for making scathing remarks about a white school including coloured rugby players and President Botha, Prime Minister Botha as he then was, said to Treurnicht, "Do you think the coloureds are lepers? I can't have it." So it was in PW Botha's time that Treurnicht left the party, not in De Klerk's time. I doubt whether he would have left the party in De Klerk's time because De Klerk had a way to try and please the conservatives. We had this unworkable, unrealistic, visionless tricameral parliament with the blacks excluded. I told Dr Piet Koornhof at the time, he will know, if he's an honest I think he will admit it, we had a heated argument in the street in front of parliament one day when I said to him, "Piet, the blacks are excluded and I'm telling you it is doomed to failure." And he said, "Yes, but we offered it to the blacks and they said, which black? We offered it to blacks, they turned it down." I said, "Of course the majority of black people have an ambition that one day they would be governing this country and to come and offer them a fourth chamber of some sort on a vehicle of this nature, how the hell do you think will they have to justify it in their own ranks to their own supporters? It's just impossible. And the blacks who would support it would become traitors in their own ranks." I knew it by then because I offered Ambassadorships to blacks which they turned down. It was no secret.

POM     The difference between PW and De Klerk?

PB     Their manner differed and their style differed. Mr de Klerk was more the Attorney who was trained to sit back, listen to various sides, give them an opportunity to debate and then make up his mind. Yes. Whilst Mr PW Botha was more a man for also listening but coming to decisions rather abruptly and fast. That's why I say there was a vast difference, the chemistry between the two just never functioned.

POM     Between De Klerk and PW?

PB     Never, never ever.

POM     Barend du Plessis laughs at the suggestion that he was PW's chosen successor. Who did PW want to take over?

PB     I don't know, he never revealed that. His letter to the NP caucus in which he indicated that he was resigning certainly did not disclose anything of that nature and he certainly did not have any conversations with any members of the caucus to support Barend or anybody else. He was an absolutely closed book on that one.

POM     Where did De Klerk come out it, jump out of?

PB     De Klerk came out of a conservative –

POM     We never heard of him besides closing some universities.

PB     He had these portfolios, education was one, postal services was another one. From a Foreign Affairs point of view these were non-controversial really in the sense that if you have your budget you must just administer it properly. He had no schooling in major complexities as this country was drifting into international isolation. He was content to be the leader of the white parliament with his own little Cabinet of which nobody ever took notice because, you see, under the tricameral parliament the coloureds had their own little Cabinet and the Indians had theirs and the whites had theirs, you see, with, I don't know what they call him, the Chief Minister or chairperson or whatever names, I was not really interested in them at all at the time. Then four or five executive members who had the status of ministers and the pay of ministers and they used then to administer white affairs. It was not called white affairs at the time, I think they were called 'Own Affairs', that was the euphemism.

POM     Chris Heunis, he was in charge of that?

PB     No, no, not at all, De Klerk was. Heunis was a liberal, a liberal person, liberally minded person. They were administering Own Affairs, that was normally education, culture, a few things like that. Then they created also, to give them work, I think some others, agriculture or something but then you still had a central one too. It was a very complicated system in which I was not interested at all. I struggled with this country's isolation, I struggled with the Angolan war, with relations with Mozambique, with Rhodesia and trying to keep sanctions away from this country. Against that background Mr De Klerk gave me far more trouble than PW Botha, far more. PW Botha almost fired me.

POM     PW almost fired you but he didn't. But FW didn't have a choice?

PB     I think if he could have he would have. I'm sorry to say this behind his back, I think he would have tried to get rid of me as fast as possible. He opposed me on all major proposals I took to the Cabinet, virtually all of them: on disbanding the ethnically composed authorities of Namibia, which I had to do in order to implement Resolution 435, there was no way the UN – Resolution 435 did not speak of ethnically composed authorities, forget it. His friend was made Administrator General, De Klerk's friend. De Klerk's friend was made Administrator General of Namibia.

POM     What was his name?

PB     Pienaar, Louis Pienaar. Between the two they gave me a tremendously difficult time, that's all I know, tremendously. On other matters here, after he became President, on the admission of the High Commissioner for Refugees into this country who, as Foreign Minister, I needed, I needed him more than the ANC I can tell you. Why? Because we simply did not have the organisational capacity to handle the return of whatever you want to call them, refugees or ex-patriots or whatever, whether they came from Tanzania or wherever they were. Imagine a white government trying to set up an organisational structure that can handle that correctly, and from my knowledge of the world and in the UN etc., etc., I had the fullest faith in the integrity of the High Commissioner for Refugees. At that time I think it was a Japanese lady but the man who came out here as the Deputy was an African, very outstanding gentleman, we still see each other from time to time and if needs be we'll trace him, you can talk with him, it might be quite useful to hear from him how we sat in meetings with our Minister of Justice at the time, Kobie Coetsee, and how De Klerk supported Kobie Coetsee. I had to take the matter of the High Commissioner for Refugees four times to the Cabinet. Three times it was thrown out. Three times. Only the fourth time, and with a string of conditions which were almost ridiculous, I got the approval eventually. Then De Klerk was already President. I would really like you to have a conversation with him. He might be prepared to talk. Of course, after all, De Klerk isn't President any more so I think he might be prepared to tell you the difficulty the two of us had to get permission from the Cabinet for this man to enter this country and to assist in the repatriation of hundreds, if not thousands.

POM     Which man?

PB     The High Commissioner's Representative.

POM     OK.

PB     It's very important that you speak to a man like that because he was involved in the inner circles of the struggle to get permission for him to come here and to open an office here. On these issues I got no support from Mr De Klerk so with all respect for him now to come and say – his public statements are there for everybody to read, over the years there are mine. We were diametrically opposed in our views.

POM     I've heard two things. The day before yesterday I talked to Stoffel van der Merwe and I was concentrating on three areas, one is that did you ever know about or were informed about this Richard Rosenthal initiative or was that between Stoffel and the State President?

PB     I don't know about a thing like that.

POM     So you didn't know that PW was trying to establish contact with the ANC through this guy while at the same time he had Dr Barnard and Kobie Coetsee and others meeting with Mandela in prison? Was that typical of his style?

PB     Who? PW? Yes.

POM     What kind of leader was he and being a man who obviously was powerful and had no inhibitions about exerting power, how did he hold people like you?

PB     Because he gave me scope to negotiate inter alia, the Nkomati Accord, which behind the scenes we learned later was sabotaged to a large extent. I don't say PW Botha did. Elements in the security forces did it, they kept on supplying Renamo with arms. I'm convinced of it. Whether he knew about it is a question you must try to put to him. I had a suspicion he might have known of it, which to me was a great setback. Then the other matter was Namibia.

POM     FW was a great setback?

PB     No, no, no, we must try to get clarity on who we're talking about. You mentioned PW Botha.

POM     I'm a little bit deaf.

PB     Oh, sorry. You mentioned PW and then asked me about him so I replied now to you on PW Botha. You asked what kind of man he was and you said he had power, etc.

POM     And he exercised it. Now the follow up question would logically be that many people have said to me, that's your former Cabinet colleagues on both conservative and liberal sides, have said that he deserves far more credit, that if he hadn't made the reforms that he made during the eighties, particularly like the tricameral parliament, that De Klerk would never have been able to do what he did. That's one. Two, is how did – at least the TRC, one of its findings was that SA changed from being an unjust state which operated within the boundaries of unjust laws to being a criminal state where it targeted individuals and executed them?

PB     Not as a government, certainly not.

POM     No, no, Security Council, and you would be sitting –

PB     It's absolutely untrue.

POM     The third question is –

PB     But you can't keep on asking questions and then expect – I don't follow your questions after a while because you are making statements.

POM     OK, but I'm challenging you.

PB     Exactly, but you can't keep on talking for half an hour and then say these are your questions. You must put a question and then I'll respond to it. I think it's better.

POM     OK. PW. Without him would it have been possible for FW to take the steps he took? Is PW being demonised?

PB     In a way yes. Yes, there's a measure of truth in that. He must accept responsibility for the decisions he took and there's something that people seem to forget, including yourself, and that is that the Cabinet decision is the President's decision and the President's decision is the Cabinet decision. It's as simple as that. And then you overlooked it. Now there was only one way that you could manage or deal with a dispute between yourself and the President and that was to resign, there was no other way. There was no voting in the Cabinet ever. The President acted as chairperson of every Cabinet meeting and at the end of each discussion he summarised the Cabinet decision, which is his decision. That's his decision.

POM     But you never said, hey Mr President - ?

PB     I often said so, yes, then I argued my point.

POM     After he had made his decision?

PB     No, no, before he makes his decision.

POM     Once he made a decision you accepted it?

PB     Once he made the decision, sometimes I did not accept it but then I kept quiet and would return to him, to his office, and say, "Look, I think the following facts were not known", and then he might re-open the matter and in that way – for instance, in the case of Namibia and Angola and the Cuban troops I very often acted exactly this way and then got it my way. But where you are right is he had a firm, harsh, military-like attitude which did not mean that the man did not introduce, that is your second question, changes in this country. Maybe to the black people of this country it meant nothing because if you withdraw, say, the Mixed Marriages Act or if you withdraw the Immorality Act which made it a criminal offence to have sexual relations across colour lines in this country, to the majority of my black friends that is meaningless because they said to me, look we don't want to marry your women in any case so to us it means nothing. OK, fine maybe it's a good thing, etc. They wanted the vote, they wanted political power, so only steps in that direction they were interested in. But on the other hand from the point of view of overcoming white resistance to change you had to withdraw those Acts and that in that sense played an important role in paving the way, I believe. But then PW Botha became ill and he stopped and said to himself no further, because I believe, as he often said to us in the Cabinet, he believed firmly that the country's problems could only be resolved through a war, through military means. He believed it. Why else do you think this tremendous arms industry? Why else the billions that went into the defence effort including the nuclear bomb? He wanted to be prepared for the war which he considered to be inevitable whilst De Klerk was a totally different operator.

POM     But how did he see the 'war', and I put that in quotes because as I recall, my question is not too long I hope, Patti Waldmeir having an interview with him where he said, "This is about Christianity and communistic atheists." Did he believe that?

PB     He believed it but there were many facets of this. I think strategically he believed that the Soviet Union would come into Africa, particularly after the Cubans in Angola, which was not so far-fetched because eventually they had over 50,000 troops there which even for NATO today is a considerable number of troops. And he saw in that a pattern that might develop and that you would have the penetration of Soviet or Soviet surrogate forces in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola and cut off SA virtually and from the north you would have sabotage effects, cross-border raids, reaching a point of no return where war maybe against African states would become inevitable.

POM     So he was not just operating as State President, he was also operating as Chief Military Strategist?

PB     Yes it's correct to say that, but remember he had Generals who said the things I just told you now to us at Cabinet briefings.

POM     But who challenged him? Who said, "Mr President that's a crock of shit?"

PB     No-one.

POM     Now you're a strong man, a strong personality, a strong everything, and you would sit there and listen to this and say, to use the Lyndon Johnson phrase, it's better to be in the tent pissing out than to be outside the tent pissing in?

PB     No, no. If you receive a briefing from a General whose job it is, if you are briefed, if you can't build a house and a mason tells you what the strength of your cement ought to be and what kind of bricks you must use, and you don't listen to him then you must make sure that you have better information than your mason otherwise you're in trouble because you do not know how to build a house. I was not a military expert, number one. Number two, if you are told that there are now 300 tanks in Mozambique and 250 in Zimbabwe and 340 in Angola, and if you are told that they now have airfields with radar installations which will make it impossible for any of your aircraft to fly through that network; if furthermore you have Presidents like President Reagan who started what he called 'the star war system' against Soviet aggression in regional areas all over the world, particularly after Afghanistan, etc., then with all respect it is not so easy to say that is a lot of shit.

POM     Well I'm Irish, I believe it's still full of shit.

PB     You must have at least different information. It's only later that I discovered that, yes, there were 300 tanks but one of them was operative. There's a difference.

POM     Yes, so you're there at Cabinet, you sit in on meetings of the State Security Council. I told you I talked to Stoffel van der Merwe yesterday and he said, "I think between 1986 and 1992 I missed two meetings of SSC meetings and I was totally ignorant that there was an agenda going on to eliminate blacks."

PB     That's completely correct.

POM     Yet the TRC's commissioner says that in the minutes of the meeting it's full of references to eliminate, get rid of. It's almost like the Thomas More quote, remember the famous one Henry XII made about Thomas More?

PB     Yes, I don't know about that.

POM     Well he said, "Who will rid me of this tiresome priest?"

PB     He named the priest and identified him, etc., etc.

POM     Some people said that's an order to get rid of him.

PB     No, my friend, please try to understand. There are my newspaper cuttings.

POM     But were the words 'eliminate' – what do you think the word means?

PB     Before you ask it, please, you must compose – give me a chance to respond.

POM     All yours.

PB     I challenge you to go through the archives of every newspaper in this country. The Sunday Times used to write editorials using those words. If the Pretoria bomb was exploded here everyone in this country said eliminate the terrorists.

POM     Whites said.

PB     Yes whites and some coloured leaders and Indian leaders and sometimes certain black leaders of the homelands, yes. Yes they feared them. Now to come years later and take a dictionary version of the word 'eliminate' and trying to project that and say that the Cabinet decided to 'eliminate' without trial or without arrest, the idea was in this country that is absolutely correct and no minutes of the SSC or the Cabinet and all SSC recommendations, because they were not decisions, the SSC had only advisory power not executive power.

POM     It had to go before the Cabinet?

PB     Every one.

POM     But then the Cabinet's decision, as you said earlier, was the President's decision.

PB     Was the President's decision, sure.

POM     So he made up his mind?

PB     Yes, but the point I want – no, you're deviating – I'm responding to your point about the words that were used, the words that were used. If he says today 'eliminate' the gangs. He goes to his home tonight, a friend of his has been murdered, his television stolen, his car stolen, shot, and he says we must eliminate these bastards, we must now get rid of them. He doesn't say that the law must not take its course. By saying 'eliminate' he expresses a wish to stop them. He does not say that you must go beyond the law. He doesn't say that he's going to do it. He doesn't say I have identified Joe Dhlamini as the man who did it and now he calls in again and says go and kill him.

POM     So, while you sat in on those meetings for 18, 19, 20 years and these words came up 'eliminate', 'get rid of', whatever, the TRC devotes five pages to extracts from the minutes of –

PB     I explained all that to them, my friend. I explained to them in detail and they couldn't contradict me.

POM     They rejected them would you say?

PB     Well they might have rejected it.

POM     They said anybody who didn't immediately –

PB     Do you want to listen to my responses or do you have a thesis that you drive me to concur with?

POM     No thesis, no, the very opposite.

PB     Then you must be prepared at least to listen to my responses. I say I appeared before the TRC, I explained this and at the end Bishop Tutu came to thank me.

POM     He thanked Winnie Mandela too.

PB     In a different way, yes. Some of the other things there, we had no legal experience. Tutu complained himself about the lack of expertise of the staff in the TRC and I'm saying to you here today, it doesn't matter what you write, it doesn't matter what questions you put, history will eventually – there will be students, there will be students, there are historians who will publish the truth, the facts of the day. In this country it was a low scale war but when we said 'eliminate' the terrorists we did not say that anybody in the police force now has the right to go and take anybody by his choice and decide to kill a person. It's simply not true. You will not find it in any discussion, it was against the law. Every minister had to assure that he acts within the law of this country irrespective of a Cabinet decision, and a Cabinet decision that was against the constitution and the law of this country could be taken to court and I reject the notion that I sat in any organisation in this country, I reject it, whoever authorised the irregular killing of people. I object to any implication of that nature. If you put it to me that we could have done more to ensure that it does not happen then I will be prepared to admit that. You just said to me we could have questioned and queried some of the rumours we heard, yes we could have in a stronger way. The answer then is yes, but to come and imply that we as a Cabinet, after all, with all respect –

POM     I'm not implying anything.

PB     The British Intelligence Service – I want to complete my response.

POM     I'm not implying.

PB     And the American Intelligence Services and the other Intelligence Services knew everything that was going on in that Cabinet. Don't tell me they didn't. It never bothered them. It never bothered them, why? Because they knew that was the language of the time. The newspapers said it. After a cross-border raid into Botswana the Sunday Times wrote an editorial to say it's high time that the terrorists be taught a lesson. Now does that mean that the Editor of the Sunday Times said that they had the right to go and kill people indiscriminately? Of course not. He was expressing a sentiment that was on this side of the fence because you were a terrorist or a freedom fighter depending on which side you were and that is the dividing line. When ANC guerrillas would kill a farmer and his wife on an isolated farm that doesn't mean that Mr Mandela or Thabo Mbeki or anyone else instructed them to go and kill Oom Jan and his wife. They might have said the struggle must be carried on, the struggle must become more militant. That does not mean that Thabo Mbeki said go and put a tyre around the neck of some person and burn him. It's not true and I do not think Mr Mbeki must accept responsibility for that.

POM     OK. Two questions, and by the way we're not having an interview, we're having a conversation, so in conversations people exchange views.

PB     Yes, but you tend to imply things, you see you tend just to repeat what was said in the TRC Report.

POM     That's right.

PB     Now let me give you an example, and this you can go and check. They wrote me a letter to say that I'm negatively implicated because of a raid on Gaborone sometime in 1986 or 1987. Then I got a chance to reply, which I did. I sent a fully factual reply. They rely on evidence given by Eugene de Kock, no, Craig Williamson, a 'dumb spy' I called him, not a spy, not a master spy.

POM     What is a 'dumb' spy"

PB     Stupid. They rely on his evidence. Now listen a bit, Williamson tells them that he flew to a bushveld farm where I was hunting with a General of the police force and that PW Botha told them they can't undertake the raid into Gaborone unless Pik Botha countersigns the order. On that evidence I'm implicated. I respond, I had the General of the police here in this room. Williamson was not even present. He and the General came in a light aircraft to the farm. Before the sunset the General said to Williamson, because the pilots had to be back in Pretoria that same day and because they could not take off from –

POM     That's the farm where you're spending most of your time now?

PB     No, no, this is with a friend in the northern part of the country. And because the pilots had to be back here and the plane could not take off after sunset, the General ordered Williamson to take the pilots and himself back to Pretoria before the sunset. So only the General spoke to me. Williamson never spoke a word but he gives evidence as if he was present when they saw me. He never spoke a word to me and the General confirms it, his boss, his senior in command. The General said he laughed, he said, "Mr Botha, I remember it like yesterday." The only thing that was said in the SSC meeting was, "We had better prepare Foreign Affairs for the raid otherwise they say again that we have done something which harms our international relations, just go and inform him, and that's what I did, I went to inform you." And I said to him, "General, can you remember that I told you that this country cannot afford this?" "Yes."  "And I told you that it might increase the chances of further sanctions against us?"  "Yes", the General agreed. I said, "Did I tell you that under no circumstances must women and children be shot?" He said, "Yes Mr Botha you said it", etc., etc. This differs from Williamson's evidence like day from night. I sent to them in the form of a sworn affidavit, they never looked at it, it's not reflected anywhere in their report. They did not even look at it, not even looked at it.

     There was another case of a raid into Swaziland where our security people captured two Swiss nationals and the Swiss Ambassador was on to me within hours and demanded their release immediately. Adriaan Vlok had just become minister then, he had then been minister for two weeks. He barely knew of the raid. One of my senior personnel, a man called Lotter, Johan Lotter, luckily he's still alive, confirmed that General Coetzee, the Chief of Police, flew to Swaziland early that morning to see the Swazi Commissioner of Police, that we were not informed in Foreign Affairs, I knew nothing about the matter until it had occurred. I then told Vlok we must release the two Swiss nationals immediately. He sent his Generals here to me, we had a meeting on that front veranda of my house there, and I said to him, "Gentlemen, Switzerland may not be as powerful as America but it's a very important country. I know the Swiss. We had better release these two people immediately." And the one General said to me, "But look, we still want information out of them", because the ANC was infiltrating Swaziland which is true, they admit it, and even the Swazi government at times could not control them.

     On occasion the Swazi government sent back a large number of ANCs and after the Nkomati Accord it was far more difficult for the ANC to use Mozambique to come through Swaziland because of the Nkomati Agreement which I concluded. So we made a deal here with the security people. They said, "What will we tell the papers? That last night we took two Swiss nationals and today we release them? What do we say to the press?" And I said, I was younger then, "Leave the press to me, I will defend it. Just release the Swiss." So one of my officials who was then our representative in Swaziland, Sam Struben, was phoned and one other official of mine took them in a military helicopter to the border. Sam Struben came to the border, took them through the border and handed them over to the hotel manager where they were staying in Swaziland. Of course I had to make it known. The whole world by then knew that we abducted two Swiss nationals, so I issued a statement justifying it on the basis of the information which was supplied to me by the security forces.

     At that stage Johan Coetzee who was the head of police assured me that they arrested an ANC member, got hold of a vast number of hand grenades, explosives, and they wanted that Christmas, all of this happened in December, middle of December, they wanted to do what they called 'a black Christmas' and attack the beaches on the Natal south coast. On that basis I issued a statement. I participated in a TV interview after visiting the Swazi Prime Minister. The Swazi Prime Minister at the time was not very upset. He was upset about the Swiss abduction, yes, because the Swiss government blamed them and, secondly, he said it was done in such a clumsy way. He said, "Your security people left tracks and traces all over that they did it." In other words what the Swazi Prime Minister said to me, he said, "You are as bad as the ANC. You are damaging Swaziland's sovereignty. You are making it impossible for us to survive this way you and the ANC have your war and now you use poor Swaziland as your war field, as your theatre of war." I listened to this, I had a lot of sympathy with the Swazi Prime Minister's point of view. I came back that evening, TV people were at me, live broadcast, questions. At first I said, "Look, yes, I went to Swaziland today to discuss matters with the Swazi Prime Minister. Things are looking all right. Our relations will carry on as before. We've released the Swiss nationals, etc." I said that General Coetzee had incontrovertible evidence that the ANC wanted to make this a black Christmas and attack beaches on the Natal south coast. "But I have not come this evening to either defend or not to defend anyone." Then they dragged it out of me, they said, "But Mr Botha surely you must have known about this?" I kept quiet, and then they returned to the point and said, "Did you know about it before?" and I said, "Yes I was told it was going to happen." Because if I at that stage said no I did not know, I would have broken my undertaking to the police that I would, in return for the release of the Swiss nationals, take care of the press. If I did not say that the Swiss nationals would have been kept here but I undertook that task because it was of more value to me to have the Swiss nationals returned. And that was the end of the story.

     Now on BBC, this programme was in Afrikaans, the TRC sent me a BBC version of my interview. The BBC don't understand Afrikaans so they put the full stops at the wrong places and it looked as if I gave the orders. When I said, for instance, "I together with my colleagues", in the interview, "Would take the same decision." No, no, it says there, "I would take the same decision", as if the security forces were in my employment and I ordered them, but they left out 'together with my colleagues' which changed the whole concept and idea of what took place. What I told you here I wrote to them in the form of a sworn statement, they never looked at it. They don't reflect it, they just mention the incident and say that I defended it.

POM     Yet they say with Roelf Meyer and Leon Wessels you're the only person who comes in for accolades. It says, "Other former NP leaders, however, were more forthcoming", that's because they were saying nobody from the NP was really forthcoming. It says, "Former Foreign Minister Pik Botha submitted responses to the commission's questions that were rich in detail, while former ministers Roelf Meyer and Leon Wessels frankly acknowledged the wrongs of the ruling party's past." But you have made a very important point that you sent them a sworn affidavit that was not included either in an appendix to the commission's report or even mentioned in the report itself.

PB     Whether it will still come in an appendix I don't know but I telephoned a lady called Mary Burton. She was for many years with the Black Sash. She can confirm what I am telling you and I complained bitterly to her and her words to me were, "Mr Botha, I've listened, made notes, I will pass it on", but then the TRC was disbanded. It was finished, it was gone. Charles Villa-Vicencio I phoned him and he said, "I'm back at the university." It's the strangest thing in the world, they should have kept the TRC going to deal with this. Charles said maybe they will put it in a codicil as he called it. Now whether they will I don't know. At the moment of speaking to you I'm telling you that I despatched two sworn statements, acknowledged by them, telling me in their acknowledgement that it would be taken into consideration. They never did. What they did with it I don't know but I will deal with this in my book, if God gives me the power and the strength to write that book.

POM     Would you give me a copy of your statements?

PB     I will deal with this to point out – I was in favour of the TRC, that's why I appeared before them on the Bisho massacre. I flew down to East London for that purpose. I appeared four hours here in Johannesburg where they asked me on these two events. I gave them two sworn statements. The one is about 16 or 18 pages dealing in detail with the event. The other one is almost 30 pages dealing in detail with the events. But the man who wrote the best on all these issues is a professor at RAU university, Deon Geldenhuys, Rand Afrikaans University. I quoted for them an article written by Professor Geldenhuys on the whole clash between the ANC and the SA government, the whole clash, and I told the TRC, here is even confirmation of my talk with Mary Burton. There it is.

POM     Do you suppose it would be possible to get copies of the affidavits you gave? I'm not going to use them until the year 2001 or 2002.

PB     I'm a bit hesitant to do that for the simple reason that I want to deal with this in my book. I want to deal with this in my book unless they come out with admissions on their part of the mistakes they made.

POM     OK, if we make a bargain and the bargain would be I would only use it in concert with you in the way it is being used and, as I said, the earliest my book is coming out is the year 2001 and realistically it's going to be the year 2002. Trust. That's OK, you don't have to prove anything to me.

PB     Here it is, but look at it. Look at this holier than thou letter.

POM     This is a letter written by Lynn Lockhart, the legal officer to the TRC, to Mr Pik Botha, it says: Notice in terms of Section 32B Written Representations: 'We acknowledge receipt of your telefax together with your written representation dated 5 October 1998. Kindly be informed that the contents contained in your telefax are noted. Kindly be informed that your written representations will be considered by the commission before making a final decision regarding this matter. We thank you for your co-operation herein. Yours faithfully.' That does justice to somebody who should be in the Foreign Service.

PB     What I am trying to convince you of –

POM     You don't have to convince me.

PB     - is that the law gives me certain rights, then on paper they pretend they are complying with the law and that in practice they bring out a report which completely violates this sentence. 'Kindly be informed that the contents contained in your telefax are noted. Kindly be informed that your written representations will be considered by the commission before making a final decision regarding this matter.' Ten days later and they write me a letter of that nature. That's why I say be careful, be careful.

POM     Why do you think I keep coming back to you time and time again? That was a question.

PB     I might consider giving this to you.

POM     You've dealt with many people throughout 25 years and the only thing I have going for me on ten years working on this book is that if my integrity doesn't stand up then nothing stands up.

PB     What worries me and what concerns me is not Mr Mandela or Thabo Mbeki, what worries me and concerns me is what they also have stated in public is that now within the ranks of the ANC today you have the same kind of people we had in the NP who use the President's name and the Deputy President's name for their purposes and their own enrichment. Let me just point out to you, this is my statement on the Gaborone raid.

POM     To the TRC?

PB     To the TRC.

POM     On, what date did you make it?

PB     It was in September 1998 but we can check there. I have the original signed before a police officer. I say to them, Commissioner Lister, (he was one the commissioners, untrained, where they got him from only they know), states in his letter of 1 September, now I get a letter on 1 September and I must reply within 21 days, whilst Coetzee had made his statement three years earlier. Commissioner Lister states in his letter of 1 September 1998 that the TRC relies upon the amnesty application of General PJ Johan Coetzee as well as formal evidence given under oath to the commission by Major Craig Williamson. The relevant part of Coetzee's amnesty application as submitted to me by Commissioner Lister reads as follows: - The so-called Botswana raid, 1985/86 (also wrong) was also discussed in principle at State Security Council level in Cape Town. The trigger for the raid was the attack on the house in Cape Town of a Deputy Minister of the House of Representatives of the SA Parliament (that was the so-called Coloured Parliament). The Chairman of the meeting where this matter was discussed was Mr PW Botha. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Pik Botha, as far as I recollect was absent because he was on a hunting trip in the Transvaal. Mr PW Botha instructed that Mr Botha who was, I think, also Acting Minister of Defence at the time, should be informed of the intended raid and his reaction obtained. This task was allotted to the SA Police and I informed the Commander of the Security Branch, who at that time was General JV van der Merwe, accordingly. He informed me later within a day or two that he had despatched Security Branch officers, according to my recollection the late General HD Stadler and the then Major C Williamson, to Mr Pik Botha and that the latter had expressed his approval for the intended action. I then informed Mr le Grangé, who was Minister of Police, of Mr Botha's reaction.

     The relevant part of Major Williamson's evidence as submitted to me by Commissioner Lister reads as follows: - 

     Mr Williamson:      

     Look I wish I could answer the question.

     Pik:     Confuses me completely. What I hear him saying now and what I used to hear him saying then when he wore a uniform, come and braai with us in his uniform with his Colonel epaulettes, the two just don't gel. When I went to him to sign the piece of paper to raid Gaborone the man I met there also seems to have forgotten it.

     A member of the commission:     

     Where did you find him on that? You were sent by somebody in Cape Town.

     Mr Williamson:

     Well there was the memo of the operation, PW Botha signed it as Commander in Chief and said, "Do not carry out this operation until Pik Botha has countersigned it." We had to chase him all around where he was hunting antelope, eland, on some farm near Thabazimbi and he signed.

     Williamson:

          Signed.

     Member:

     Was every cross-border operation of that kind authorised in the same way?

     Williamson:

     That's right.

     Member:     

     On the EPG rates even Magnus Malan is saying that he was instructed by PW on a Gaborone raid. It was never discussed by the State Security Council.

     Williamson:

          But that's how it worked. He is Commander in Chief, he can do that, and he may not have told Pik then but the Gaborone raid Pik knew and he didn't go to his car and get onto his fancy satellite phone or whatever and phone PW Botha. He just said, "Waar is die brandewyn manne, kom ons drink" – where's the brandy, let's drink.

     Now I want to ask you just to listen to this:

     Leaving aside for the purpose of this affidavit the issue of jurisdiction in respect of extra territorial activities of the SA Defence Force, the difference between General Coetzee's version and Major Williamson's version is obvious. According to General Coetzee, Pik Botha should be informed of the raid. According to Williamson there was a memo of the operation, PW Botha signed it as Commander in Chief and said do not carry out this operation until Pik Botha has countersigned it. A member of the TRC then asked Mr Williamson had he signed, to which Mr Williamson replied, "Signed." On being asked whether every cross-border operation of that kind was authorised in the same way, Williamson replied, "That's right."

     Now I say:

     It is not true that I counter-signed a memo on the operation. It is not true that cross-border activities of the Defence Force were authorised in that way. A substantial number of cross-border activities took place without any prior consultation with the minister or Department of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore various witnesses before the TRC and Amnesty Committee have by now testified that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his department consistently raised objections to, or at the very least seriously questioned, cross-border raids because of the damaging effects such raids or actions had on SA's international relations. General, then Brigadier, Stadler can confirm that he was instructed merely to inform me of the decision and not to obtain my approval. Craig Williamson was not even present during my discussions with General Stadler.

     The man was not even present but the TRC relies on what he says.

POM     The TRC also says that he's a sociopathic liar and then they rely on his – I mean there's an inherent contradiction in the TRC itself. On the one hand saying we have found this man to be a sociopathic liar and on the other hand we're relying on what he says as being the only version and the true version of events that take place.

PB     I'll give this to you on the understanding –

POM     I want you to hear it so that it's on the tape, so that when you get it back it will be absolutely –

PB     No, but I'll give you the full statements.

POM     I know but I want what you say, that you're giving them to me on the understanding.

PB     Listen I don't operate that way. You give me an understanding and I accept it.

POM     OK.

PB     That's the way we have dealt with each other always and we stick to that.

POM     That's right.

PB     Statement. Just try to remember that, I'll insert it there.

POM     OK. So at the end of the day when the TRC's report came out what did you feel?

PB     I felt dismayed. I felt disappointed because large parts of it were naturally not only useful but for the first time gave information which we were unaware of.

POM     When you say 'we' that's the government, members, colleagues?

PB     Certainly colleagues like Barend du Plessis, Dawie de Villiers, Leon Wessels and so on.

POM     Roelf?

PB     It's not only the past that matters. It is true that we ought to know the truth about the past in order to build a better future, yes, and to realise that atrocities of such a reprehensible nature could have taken place in this country. And I make no excuses. I experience remorse, as I said to you before, because I feel that we could have done more as a Cabinet to make sure that the rumours, allegations were properly investigated. I just on occasion feel that having been fired myself as a result of my remarks on this country having a black President and on my statements at the UN and elsewhere where I stated publicly that I could not defend discrimination based on colour, I thought at the time and I cannot judge today that that had an effect in this country on the thinking of whites. At first many of them were shocked. Many of them probably behind my back went to the leader of the party at the time and said get rid of him. On the other hand there were also those, and my files are full of them, who supported this across this country, including black people, coloured people, Asians, whites, English speaking and Afrikaners, and that kept me going.

     And the question I have to answer myself, I'll deal with this in my book, is if I had indeed resigned at the time and established my own political party to fight the NP, would I have delayed the change or would I have hastened the change? I can't say to you because I never did it, I never created my own party. I was on the point of doing so but it will remain until my death a question in my mind, would I have been able then to hasten the change? Would I have received sufficient support from the whites who were then in power to do then what my idea was to do or would I merely have become the leader of another splinter group discarded by history and wrecked by the wayside? At least by staying inside I can point to what I consider to be important events like the Nkomati Accord, I can point to the departure of the Cuban forces from Angola and the independence of Namibia which today my Namibian friends in power there concede to me. Mr Nujoma has done so personally, they went through the files that they inherited and saw clearly what role I played and they have complimented me.

     Then, you see, I feel a little bit taken aback when the TRC of my country comes with a report which, on the basis of what I submitted to them and which I have now handed to you, they did not even take the trouble to look at it. Now the question arises in my mind, if it happened to me didn't it happen to others as well? In other words you will need another commission, you will need another investigating team, you will need another group or team of researchers who must now go through the report and see where they slipped up. This is also where the ANC, where they have my sympathy when they say that this is a gospel type of report and it allocates responsibility where there is no responsibility. From the ANC point of view they fought a just war against an oppressive regime, that was us. Now simply in a blunt way to come and say the ANC should accept full responsibility for this and this and this, I can see why an ANC member will feel aggrieved, why he will object to it. The same on our side. Having tried your best, having risked your career for what you believe in because of the urgent need for change in this country I feel aggrieved that they don't even look at the affidavits, sworn statements that I sent them. They acknowledge it in a very friendly, courteous manner, yes.

POM     In a 'non' letter.

PB     But they acknowledged that at the time when I say to you the report had already been written, the decision taken. They should have written to me and said, look, sorry the report is with the printers or whoever is doing the thing, it is too late but we will include this in a codicil or appendix that will come later. They didn't say it and I have not heard from them since. That's why I phoned Mary Burton. I showed you the letter.

POM     I'm going to see her on Tuesday.

PB     Please ask her and send her my regards.

POM     I will also raise exactly –

PB     She knows that I have high respect for her.

POM     Do I have a copy of the letter that she sent?

PB     I don't mind making one quickly. Where was that letter? I was very upset. What did we do with his card? You will find it very, very well valuable to speak to this gentleman. He's an outstanding man.

POM     OK. I will do that.

PB     He's an outstanding man. This kind of guy is doing more to remove prejudice, prejudice in the minds of whites against blacks, this guy falls in that class of men who when you meet him colour disappears and only merit surfaces and he can tell you what happened in those days when Mr De Klerk was President and Kobie Coetsee Minister of Justice. I want you to have a better understanding. We often talk about the struggle. The struggle really had many forms within each organisation, within the ANC as well. It was not just complete unanimity amongst them, just as there wasn't amongst us.

POM     So you were disappointed overall with the TRC?

PB     I was disappointed. I'll tell you why, mainly why. Eventually the report was rejected by the NP and the ANC virtually, by both. I say it's a pity that it happened that way. They were so hard pressed for time. I do believe it was a bit unfair to the ANC. The ANC only asked for a little bit more time to prepare their representations, just as I did. We find ourselves in the same boat, opposite sides but in the same boat and because of time limits the ANC was told, sorry, we're going ahead. Could they not have postponed this a week or two or three to take into account these papers, to take into account the ANC representations? What is wrong with that? It's an important report. What's wrong to say, all right it's late, we've warned the ANC two or three times bring your submissions, they didn't in time but all right, for the sake of justice, for the sake of fairness, for the sake of completeness, but now listen ANC this is now final. And we make a deal. Yes, we TRC say to you we object to your attitude, we don't like it but OK, for the same of fairness we agree but we want you now to sign here that you unconditionally accept this further extension and if you do not comply with this we can go ahead to publish the report. You could have done that. You could have taken two weeks more and then consider with the ANC – consider why now? I'm a lawyer in the sense that audi alteram partem is the oldest rule inherited even from the Romans, hear the other side.

     Throughout my existence as a minister I ascribed the positive results that I achieved to one thing only, particularly in the case of Angola, and that is that I could put myself in the position of my opposition. It is very difficult to do because you are emotionally charged against the Cubans, emotionally charged, and you must go by yourself and discipline yourself mentally, spiritually but mentally and intellectually and say to yourself, look what is this thing, why is Castro doing this in Africa, why did he send troops there in the first place? Does Castro really believe that he is fighting an anti-colonial war? You, Pik Botha, your forefathers also fought an anti-colonial war and you, Pik Botha, believe your grandfathers, two of them who fought in that war –

POM     We all hate the Brits.

PB     Yes. Had a just cause. Your women and children died, 26,000 of them in concentration camps, and you, Pik Botha, believe that. But for you that is the truth. Now who tells you that Fidel Castro does not believe sincerely, you may differ on a factual basis, but sincerely believe that these white people from SA are an extension of the old colonial times, they co-operated with the Portuguese and with the Smith regime and now that the Africans are taking over power they want to prevent it by all sorts of tricks and means and subterfuge and the colonial war is just being carried on in a different form and we, in Cuba, are on the side of the Africans. We are near America, a big empire, threatening us, etc., etc., making life difficult for us, and there is this poor Angola under Portuguese rule, very little education, very little black advancement, very little done for black people, and unfortunately that is true. I knew black people in Angola, I know Angolans who could not own a shop, who could not trade, who were not allowed the licence. These things were in the hands of the Portuguese people form Portugal. Now I said to myself, if it's then correct that Castro believes sentimentally at least that he must come out on the side of the Angolans, how can I provide him a face-saving device?

     Say, for instance, it is also true that a lot of Cubans had by then died, clashes are starting between Cubans and local Angolans because there are men away from their women, you know what I mean, that brings about clashes as they do always in a war situation, and maybe the stage has been reached where the Soviet Union wants to withdraw from regional conflicts all over the world and Castro sees that he would not be able to rely any more on Soviet assistance so here is a chance, on condition that I provide a means, a way out which he can accept with dignity.

     My dear friend, this is what happened. After the opening round in Cairo in May/June 1988 there were the Cubans, my delegation, the Angolan delegation and the Americans and the Soviet Union as observers in the background, and that the meeting opened with a heated attack by the Cubans on us, going back to colonial times, just as I told you, followed by an emotional attack by the Angolans to the point where I looked up and said to the two leaders of the two delegations, the Cuban delegation and the Angolan delegation, "Look, what have we come to do here? I thought we've come to conclude a peace. Now it's quite clear to me this is an extension of UN debates and human rights violations. In that case I propose that we appoint a tribunal, an independent tribunal which will investigate the human rights violations in all three countries, from constitutional rights, voting rights, religious rights, freedom of association, freedom of the person, all those things, and I propose that we adjourn." And we adjourned and the Cuban General who is now still a Minister of Fidel Castro, I saw him the other day in Pretoria, I found him in a little lounge there and we ordered a whisky each.

POM     This is in Pretoria?

PB     In Cairo. We had a whisky and he said to me, "Ah, Mr Botha, I just want to say we are introducing 15,000 more Cubans in the war effort", and I said, "Well then you will just be forcing us to introduce so many thousand more South Africans and the war will carry on and we will kill each other, young men will die, but what will you and I one day tell history? Why was it impossible for us?" He said, "But look, what you are demanding? You are demanding our withdrawal. Do you think my leader can accept that after so many Cubans died, after so many billions were spent by us?" I said, "No my friend, I don't expect your leader to accept that. But if I tell you that your leader, if you withdraw, can claim that the war is over, that you gained Namibia's independence and there was no reason any more to be there because you had succeeded." And he looked at me and he said, "And will you give Namibia it's independence?" I said, "Yes we will." He looked at me and he said, "That changes everything, everything." And he said to me, "But what will you tell your white voters?" I said, "I will tell my white voters I got rid of the Cubans. Now we can make Namibia independent." I win. You win. We both win.

POM     Win win.

PB     And that did it. Six months later we signed all the agreements in the headquarters of the UN. What I'm trying to convey to you is that the audi alteram partem rule which we inherited from Roman law still plays its role.

POM     Listen to the other side.

PB     Listen to the other side. They might have a point which if you were in their shoes might at least explain to you the behaviour of that person that you dislike. You may still not agree, you need not adopt him as your brother but, and this is my message today to SA, to the ANC and all the other parties, because I'm out of politics now I can afford to say it, please sit back and just listen to the other side, just ask yourself why do they react that way. You need not agree but just ask why do they react that way. And that was the reason why I took this out because I want to urge you, because of the value of this, and this professor doesn't always like me, Deon Geldenhuys.

POM     Sorry, name the document that you're talking from?

PB     I'm quoting him. I want you to go and read this, it's not long, there I quote him. My last paragraph: I respectfully submit that all of us can benefit from introspection. (This is what I'm saying to you today). The views expressed by Professor Deon Geldenhuys of the Rand Afrikaans University and published by the Sunday Star of 30 June 1985 made a deep impression on me. I can associate myself in a large measure with his analysis of the Gaborone raid. And then I quote what he wrote. A page and a half. I want to be so bold as to say to you, you will find dissenting views of the situation in 1985. You speak to people now in 1999, it's easy with hindsight and many try to put another face on things, but in 1985 he wrote this.

POM     I was going to ask you, this off the record altogether, when you write your book is it going to be a book that is a justification of Pik Botha and the stance he took or is it going to be: this is the naked truth as I saw it and understood it at the time and I may have made mistakes and if I did that's because I am as fallible as anybody else?

PB     No I will strictly adhere to the truth as it happened. I tell you why. I was Minister of Foreign Affairs for almost 18, 17 years and the things I said and did are documented so even if there was a temptation to try and justify some of the mistakes we made, historians will prove me wrong and that to me is a far more derogatory position to be in than to admit it yourself and to be proved right by the historians.

POM     This is completely different what I'm going to bring up now. It concerns Northern Ireland. As you know they passed last April what was called The Good Friday Agreement. The IRA had maintained a cease-fire for a year and the British are supposed to re-transfer powers from the central authority in London to now an elected Northern Ireland Assembly which is a power sharing arrangement under quite complicated rules. You've got to work out your mathematics before you take a vote. The Agreement says (tape switched off).

PB     Reconciliation and a decision that must endure and not be overthrown depends on a mental state, a mental condition. I have too often gone through agreements, understandings and arrangements where I pulled it off only to be sabotaged later by persons within my own ranks. When I say that, you take the Nkomati Accord, acclaimed wonderfully world-wide and yet the whole effort was scuttled, was sunk by elements within the Defence Force of my country because they agreed at the time with the wording of the Accord. There it is. But they interpreted that Accord their way and saw in it loopholes for them. That's why I say in a matter as serious as this one there is no other way out but to close doors privately.

     (Tape switched off again)

     And this guy called Grey who did that Dolphin deal, etc. Matthews Phosa inherited a very, very difficult region of this country, with assets it is true, but with the wrong people appointed in his immediate environment. I went through the same thing. The Cabinet of which I was a member had ministers in there which were making bloody public statements, so embarrassing it is not true, it is not true. I can see the whole thing again happening. I am on the side of Matthews Phosa.

POM     Well you'll be glad to know that he is a man who is at peace with himself completely.

PB     He phoned me, he phoned at Christmas time. We had a tentative arrangement for a lunch early in January, the two of us, but then all this bloody trouble exploded and the poor man – on top of it he had that terrible accident.

POM     It will take him another six to nine months before he can walk. He's learning how to walk. He has his crutches and he says, "This is how far I can go", and you can take the crutches away from him and he can go five steps. But the day before he was only going four steps, now it's five and the day after it's going to be six and then it's going to be seven.

PB     I understand that. I cannot believe this nonsense. I know that man. I'm telling you I'm not going to be overawed by investigative journalists. They are not a court of law, they're not trained to do that job, they want to sell their papers and create fuss about everything. I am on the side of Matthews Phosa.

POM     So if I called on you in short time, because it's got to be done – ?

     (Tape switched off again).

PB     What … did you have that Mbeki knew, etc? Maybe it is just a group as we have had in the party, Treurnicht and others on occasion who held that ideal. I said to my colleagues, what if the negotiations fail? What will happen? Dead silence. I said, tell me what – De Klerk said no it can't. I said, please, don't tell me it can't. What happens if the negotiations come to a standstill and there's a deadlock, unbridgeable? Then the ANC is back to arms. Of course they are back and the war goes on. So we cannot now, as a result of this incident, stop the negotiations. That must go on.  We wanted and insisted, we insisted, on the ANC abandoning violence as a means to achieve a political objective. The ANC was only prepared to suspend, there's a hell of a difference between abandoning and suspending. And for two bloody years I was in the minority of this, couldn't get it through, and eventually we did accept 'suspend' which meant in effect that if the talks failed – some of my colleagues said, "OK this is a pistol at our heads, if we do not comply with their bloody wishes they return to violence." I said, "But my dear friend, if the talks don't carry on then that is the practical reality which will result."

     Now to some extent this applies, honestly Padraig, to this situation in this sense. For some guys there in your region now to say decommissioning or not does not make sense because if decommissioning follows as a result of, let us say, trust building up over a period of time, you can't have it overnight, and the IRA kind of guys, I know them, feel hell there's no reason for us now any longer to be, we say in Afrikaans, hardegat, that means hard-arsed, there's no reason for us, in practice it's working, it's working. Then the events will decommission them, not an agreement. The events will, the practice, the implementation process will decommission them. Why? It will go to their minds and in their minds they will accept it. Nothing, but nothing, but nothing will change them. I tell you, I've studied that situation. It is the most embedded, petrified situation of this nature I've come across for a long time. It's different from the Basques in many respects. This is going back a hell of a time in history, which people don't understand. What is their face-saving device? On paper now there's nothing. That paper is not giving them a way out at all. I am sorry to say that.

POM     I know.

PB     I'm sorry to say that. In other words some people must climb off their horses in such a way –

POM     They won't.

PB     That they don't feel they lose.

POM     Yes, that's right. But how to get two sides to climb off?

PB     It's not that difficult if you can persuade an individual by saying, for instance in this case, let's talk again tomorrow. I'm asking to go and sleep tonight and think of the alternatives and think what will happen if in a year's time from now on the violence has increased and we are back to square one as against you taking a slight risk now. The risk is not that big. A slight risk now.

POM     All they're being asked to do is make a gesture.

PB     And in a year's time you can be on the bandwagon, you can say, yes I was part of the process that did decommission them in the end but I was not so foolhardy and petulant that I insisted at the critical moment on phraseologies and conditions that were unrealistic at that given moment in time. Because what are the alternatives in all respects? A return to violence with the gnawing feeling for the rest of that guy's life that had I been a little bit more understanding at that moment, decommissioning could have taken place and I could have claimed credit for having made it possible. And the IRA guys can say, look, we didn't lose, we felt it was not certain what the future holds but now we feel circumstances have changed so we decommission. Then both are winners again. There's a winning possibility for both sides but it requires meticulous understanding, it requires sitting down to change the mental state into a situation like in the pub in Cairo where both can feel, hell, this is reasonable, yes this is reasonable, I'm not losing.

POM     So I'll go back to my humble request, if I called on you in a week or ten days and said Belfast, two days, got to be there in two days, things are set up, Cyril is going, if not Cyril it will be Matthews who said he would take his crutches off and go, if not Matthews, Mac – I'm talking to Mac next week.

PB     Matthews Phosa you must be careful at this stage and be careful only for one reason. I told you that I believe in his innocence but he is so controversial at the present moment, he is very controversial and perhaps some of either the Unionists or the IRA even or whoever might be reading these reports.

POM     It's got to be Cyril or Mac. This the team I want to go, Cyril, Mac, because Mac has already talked to them.

PB     I know, I know about it. We were together at a wedding the other day when Barend du Plessis spilled a lot of wine over his suit. Barend then came up with the bloody bright idea, soda water will eradicate it. So what did they do? They drowned him in soda water and there the man was standing dripping. Barend promised me subsequent to that that he was going to take Mac and buy him a brand new suit, etc. He took it in his stride.

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.