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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

05 Nov 1999: Coetsee, Kobie

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Tape No. 1

POM     Mr Coetsee, perhaps just lets start today with an easy kind of question, and that is, you are still a keen student of politics I would assume, when you look at the results of the elections in 1999 how would you interpret them particularly in light of the fact that the ANC entered these elections with their public approval across the racial divide not very high in relation to performance on law and order, performance on handling unemployment, performance on economic management, performance on housing, performance on education, and indeed on almost any social or economic indicator of significance that you can think of, yet it came out of the election with a high percentage of the vote than it had received in the first election in 1994. You had the New National Party who have lost half or more of its support base. You had the rise of the Democratic Party. You had other – Inkatha lost ground marginally, not significantly, but certainly lost nationally and more so in KZN. It was like the ANC swept all the boards before them and that the opposition rather than being able to gather any momentum in the first four years of office has become more fragmented than ever. And of course the party I did leave out was the Freedom Front supposedly representing the Afrikaner and Afrikaner aspirations and so it's almost as if its entire base of support not just left it, did not leave it for the NP but left it for the DP. How would you interpret the mosaic?

KC     An interesting summary you've given of your own assessment. I don't think the election results really reflect a sophisticated constituency or a sophisticated voter measuring the performance of a party against a check list such as you've mentioned because the one area which the ANC has achieved and is achieving more and more is in the area of finance and economics. There is no doubt in my mind that they are doing better than the government in my time did at any time. But then let me hasten to say to you, that's exactly one of the reasons why we went into the process of negotiation, the process of bringing about a transformation in SA because we realised, that's my point of view, that we had reached the ceiling of our ability under apartheid and that in order to explore the human potential and the country's resources better we had to give legitimacy to various facets of especially international relations.

     I think that the ANC's Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, is doing an excellent job but, again, the voter, the average voter did not consider Manuel's achievement as such, very few perhaps did. People who have switched to the ANC, people who have started to vote for the ANC for the first time, possibly did consider the economic, financial achievement, or rather promise of achievement. The average voter, and that's the majority, voted emotionally. They voted emotionally, they voted for the ANC that would ensure black dominance, that would ensure a black majority, no matter what they do with the majority, because the average voter being then part of the larger majority didn't have a better quality of life, didn't experience a better quality of life, improvement of quality of life after April 1994 and they didn't measure the possibility of a better quality of life after the June elections so they voted emotionally.

     It's very much an anti-old establishment vote as well, but it's not a racial vote as such. That's interesting. If the PAC and AZAPO had obtained a larger portion of the votes you could have said it's racial, it's racially motivated. It's not. That's why I say, I choose my words very carefully, it was an emotional election still. It's almost as though the aftermath of apartheid and the 1994 elections got people to vote that way. Now the ANC very cleverly also used the old apartheid spook and the old apartheid operators through the media, through the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, used that instrument for its optimal value. My assessment is that we're looking at a situation where there has been an emotional continuation, not reaction, continuation of the April 1994 elections.

POM     I want to go back to the racial component in a moment but I was interested in hearing about the NP, and NP, DP and the FF and the transference of the white vote to the DP.

KC     To the DP, all right I was coming to that. I think that the Volksfront's lack of achievement came as a surprise.

POM     To?

KC     To many observers. It came as a big surprise to many of them. My interpretation is that the white voters were looking then for a vociferous opposition to the ANC, not necessarily effective or long-term reliable, they're looking for a vociferous opposition. I would say almost a kind of opposition with no little responsibility when it comes to good governance. The voters realised that the DP can't do anything for their personal benefit and advantage; they can criticise and that's what they want. They want the ANC to be exposed and criticised.

POM     It makes them feel psychically better to hear the ANC criticised. They derive satisfaction from that since they're not deriving satisfaction from the ANC.

KC     Tony Leon is the right man, he has spoken again in parliament, and they become less, the white voter or rather the average voter has become less sophisticated too. They don't realise that the debate in parliament is but the tip of the iceberg, that the committees of parliament are ideally placed for result, not that we have it at the moment, because if that had been the criterion, in other words effective committee work, effective inter-action with non-governmental organisations, effective inter-action with employers' organisations especially, farmer organisations, if that had been the criteria they of necessity should have voted either NP or FF because these are the organisations, or rather political parties, that interact with the NGOs and so on. But instead they want a vociferous opposition. In my neighbourhood I believe that when they counted the votes, just bear in mind that my majorities in the past were some of the largest in the country for four or five elections.

POM     Yours would have been considered a safe seat of the NP.

KC     Safe seat, NP sentiment. One out of four voted either Nat or Volksfront, the remainder voted DP. So I confronted people, who and why did you vote DP? And no-one is admitting support for the DP. That was end of June, middle of July. No-one is admitting. In other words people just wanted – they couldn't register dissatisfaction with the NP, the NP is not in power so what do you do with your dissatisfaction? No, you want a loud mouthed opposition leader, effective in debate. Now I am not sure whether the other political parties realise what the criteria have been. I may be wrong but my party is not geared to make such an analysis and act accordingly.

POM     Why?

KC     I think it's lack of experience. All the old guard are gone. Danie Schutte is now the last to leave, so there is very little experience. Now Van Schalkwyk could have impressed the electorate when he took over from De Klerk, he could have. If he had said I'm a young man, I'm here to serve my country, I'm here to serve the President of this country and the first thing I'm going to do is to report to him and commit my party for the general good of the country and I will find new ways of being in opposition but I will also find new ways of making this country work, which they say now, which they did not say at the time. So I think that he lost an opportunity. So now he has made noises like it will be so nice to be part of the government again. It's too late, he should have countered De Klerk's leaving the government of national unity and the moment he took over from De Klerk he should have made these noises.

POM     I want to go back into the government of national unity.

KC     Yes. And if not so, I mean he couldn't have done so blatantly but he could have committed himself for the general good of the country. What I'm trying to tell you is that we of the old guard had put together a grand plan, put together the government of national unity. We didn't visualise it as utopia but we visualised a novel, a complete new political dispensation where politics really took second place to the country's interests and I think it was possible that with Mr de Klerk, and I'm criticising him, leaving the government of national unity that opportunity was lost. So that brings me to the UDM.

POM     Has the NNP an identity? Does it know what it stands for? Does it have a vision of where it wants to go and how it wants to develop? Does it have a strategy of how to implement the vision?

KC     Well you're talking of two things, the vision and the reason to be there, a reason for existence. They say really the same as the UDM, we want to be a real non-racial party. We believe that it's possible, they say, to have such a party just right of the ANC based on all the wonderful values that they have in pledging loyalty in the past. So on paper it's there but the ability, the strategy to put this into effect and into operation – I'm not sure whether the present generation has the necessary experience, perhaps in time to come.

     Now let me come to the UDM. Holomisa and Roelf have been trying to establish a clear difference between them as a non-racial party and any other non-racial party having a black leader. It seems they feel that makes a difference because it's the only difference. They have a good policy though. They have an excellent appeal to the public but I think their time hasn't come. The NP has been able to develop a strategy to make their ideas and vision work. We are looking at the party's demise by the next general election and I believe that their party will be there.

POM     Well it seems their party is not eligible for party funding. They didn't do as well as they thought they would do.  (Break in recording.)

KC     For instance it's so easy these days to get a liquor licence and I know of a certain gentleman who is a very active member of the AWB, he now runs a restaurant where he serves the blacks with liquor, mostly black people, white policemen amongst them because there's a police station close by, and he's making money and I think he's representative of a phenomenon in the country.

POM     So rather than his world falling apart economically he's doing better than ever economically.

KC     When I discuss this with my wife, I say to her – you know Mr X hates me more, he still hates me more than my black workers on the farm because he runs at the end of the month a bus service to his restaurant and to his bar and his liquor shop. It's a strange society that we're looking at, a very strange society but interesting.

POM     Do you find it interesting, just to follow up on what you said about that, that Afrikaans could be the rallying point, do you find it interesting that in the last couple of weeks you've had this group of top Afrikaner intellectuals who would have been considered liberals – ?

KC     Breyten Breytenbach.

POM     Breytenbach, Hermann Giliomee.

KC     Well he used to be a liberal but I don't know what he is today.

POM     No he's switched a little but he would still see himself as liberal.

KC     We know what we're talking about.

POM     Yes. That they have come out looking for a charter of minority rights, in a way they're looking for group rights.

KC     Which makes me sick.

POM     They are intellectuals who tore down that idea.

KC     When I started to talk about this in 1989, when I instructed the Law Commission to consider group rights they tried to run me down, these very liberals.

POM     And now they're asking for them.

KC     When I read this I said to my wife – I can just laugh. It's ten years later and they read it correctly, they read the atmosphere correctly. So they would want to be right in front, they want to be the flag bearers.

POM     But in a way you have your right wingers who are concerned about Afrikaans and you have your intellectuals at the other end of the spectrum who live in their fancy homes and drive their fancy cars and lead their nice comfortable lives.

KC     Like Giliomee and –

POM     And they're concerned about Afrikaans and you have coalitions from two ends of the Afrikaner spectrum coming together over a common issue which is language.

KC     What is very interesting too is I was at Woolworths this morning, the personnel are primarily coloured people, people of colour, and I listened very carefully, they were talking in Afrikaans to each other and I spoke to the one lady also in Afrikaans and she responded in English, and two minutes earlier I heard her talking Afrikaans. So it seems to me that there is some kind of pressure from business to be politically correct  and to suppress Afrikaans because they interpret it to be politically correct to suppress Afrikaans.

POM     So even though you spoke to her in Afrikaans, you would expect her to respond in Afrikaans?

KC     Yes because it's obviously her mother tongue.

POM     So how do you explain her not doing so?

KC     The neighbour next door, the overseer, the floor manager, a policy of Woolworths, English only spoken by staff.

POM     So when speaking to her fellow workers she is going against company policy but just among themselves –

KC     But when you talk to the public – so what I also observe is a kind of a building up amongst Afrikaner academics. I'm not talking about these 23 people. I'm talking about the incident that occurred on a flight, now three weeks ago Professor Weich asked the cabin attendant to explain the security arrangements for him in Afrikaans as well. Of course he was sitting at door number ten and with the express door number ten means that you have to open the window, the door, push the door open and so on, and she refused. He said, "Well in that case I want another chair because you are making me now part of your security arrangements and I may misunderstand you." So they went down, they were already in the air, turned around and dropped him.

POM     They dropped him? They took him off the plane?

KC     Yes. And the 23 gentlemen have now come out in very strong support of Professor Dirk Weich and he is a kind of a national hero on my part as well, almost like Jannie de Beer, the one that drop-kicked the British into oblivion.

POM     And was he given any explanation?

KC     Well no. He was apparently visited by an executive from Johannesburg to apologise, and this morning, me coming down here, Afrikaans and English, starting with Afrikaans. You see Mr Mbeki has got a special unit now in his office looking after minority and language interests. They can't suppress Afrikaans by stealth and at the same time promote cultural rights. They can't. I expect him to come out, as he has been doing in the past, strongly in support of what he believes. In this case he believes in cultural rights, he believes in minority rights, although he doesn't use that concept. Hansard, something which we founded at the Senate when I was still there, has become the chief instrument of looking at state policy where it involves languages. Penuell Maduna, the Minister of Justice, caused such an uproar when he said English is to be the only language of record in the courts. In a sense he was stating what is already there.

POM     But that's not official policy, just his opinion.

KC     No, no, he was silenced and there was such an uproar that the result is now, I believe, that Afrikaans is more spoken now in our courts than ever before. So we've been talking about the right wing seeing an opportunity for an existence and as in the past they bedevilled any issue which they supported so I really hope it's not been the case here. Now you also have the purists saying that Afrikaans is the property of the Afrikaners. Now who are the Afrikaners? And that's an interesting evolution in SA. The Afrikaners more and more include everyone that speaks Afrikaans, coloured people, black people. In my part of the world most blacks speak Afrikaans.

POM     Would that be their mother tongue?

KC     They have a mother tongue but their language of communication is Afrikaans. I'm now talking about the street vendors, I'm talking about the car attendants, the unofficial car attendants, they don't address you in English, they speak to you in Afrikaans. So this is the other evolution which is a most positive thing that's happening, the broadening of the Afrikaner base.

     We've been talking politics now. It won't reflect perhaps in the next general election as such but it could be that in time to come language will become a very important political issue. I wouldn't like to be the ANC, I wouldn't like to be in the ANC's shoes if the wrath of the Afrikaners, not the whites, the Afrikaners get out of hand. I think Mr Mbeki is wise enough to avoid this so I don't think it will happen. He's been reading it correctly, he has this unit in his office. He's making the right noises, he's doing the right things and I will be the first to say that Afrikaners will be foolish not to admit more and more the value of the English language as a language of communication in this country and internationally. My grandchildren, half of them, are educated in English at a special school funded by Americans.

POM     Funded by Americans?

KC     Yes.

POM     Are they going to a school funded by Americans at which the primary language of instruction is English, so they're more - ?

KC     In the Free State platteland very strong religious overtones, but that's it.

POM     To turn from that to what may be the main subject of the day which is I have read, as you can see, your previous boss's biography from corner to corner and it is well marked so I have a number of questions in which he discusses -

KC     You don't think we should go and have a bite?

POM     You want to avoid discussions of your former boss?

KC     No, no, not at all. I think I started to discuss his views and what transpired between us on a very voluntary basis a long time ago. If you consult your notes –

POM     I just want to verify from his statements to make sure that everything lines up together.

KC     Let's go down.

POM     OK. We'll just pick it up from there.

     This is going back to some excerpts from FW de Klerk's autobiography, The Long Trek. He recalls a meeting, a cabinet team meeting, soon after he, FW, became leader of the NP in the Northern Transvaal. I guess it was kind of a meeting at some bosperaad just for the cabinet members, team building or whatever, where there was discussion about constitutional options. He said: -

     "The military consensus was if all the constitutional options failed that the government should then consider suspending the existing constitution and rule by decree."

     FW says he vehemently opposed the idea and that Kobie Coetsee did as well. Have you any recollection of that meeting, of what was discussed?

KC     I have a recollection of that meeting. Let me first ask, is it of importance to you because - ?

POM     I want to establish, if I can, the nature of the relationship between FW de Klerk when he became State President and the military and to what degree his concerns about not having the full backing of the military, which he expresses in his autobiography, put certain constraints on him as far as the negotiating process went, that there were certain limits to which he could go in certain directions but he had to think all the time that his last bastion of support or security were the armed forces and if they turned against him effectively he had lost the power base that counted.

KC     In fact he did lose them. Are you saying that that was your conclusion, that he in fact lost that power base?

POM     My conclusion is that he lost it to an extent where he had to make compromises or allow things to happen.

KC     Compromise with whom?

POM     With the military in terms of whether investigations carried out, that there was only a limit to which he could go in terms of who he could fire, that if he crossed certain lines he might find himself confronted with the entire senior staff of the security establishment up in arms figuratively against him, that he had never held a security portfolio and he was never part of the 'securocrat' loop and was therefore an outsider when he took over from PW Botha and that he was moving in directions very quickly that the military had been fighting against, the National Security Management System and the State Security Council for years.

KC     Repeat your last sentence.

POM     The last sentence would be that policies promulgated by the NSC and the NSMS particularly after 1986, even when you and others were talking to Mandela, were contrary when De Klerk came into power, that De Klerk took a different approach. He abolished the NSMS, he took away most of the powers of the SSC, he returned the power of decision making over policy matters to the cabinet whereas before the cabinet were informed of the decisions of the SSC and were supposed to give their rubber stamp to those decisions reached rather than being active participants in the debate itself. So if I was a military leader –

KC     Your questions really goes to the heart of the De Klerk era. It really goes to the root of the De Klerk era. Mr de Klerk didn't think of bringing about the changes just to counter PW because he didn't like PW, it was a matter of philosophy. That's where him and I formed a team, so much so that without consulting on issues relating to security, issues relating to government, issues that would affect our lives, without consulting each other or going through a long process of argument and counter-argument, we had an instinctive understanding.

     For instance, that incident there on the border, I recollect that it came out of the blue and it was not so much the military than the police that put forward these options. The chief spokesperson at the time surrounding these discussions was Johan Coetzee, Commissioner of Police, and it's not impossible that the military had put him up to it. He wasn't an ordinary policeman, he was a thinking policeman, very much so, and he was a political animal and he was considering all kinds of options. Then the discussions went into the direction of realistic options and it was a bit later in the day and we were drawn into a situation where the military atmosphere was rather overwhelming and FW, as he says, vehemently opposed the concept of security forces taking over and governing by decree. I supported him.

POM     The security forces taking over the government, or the security forces saying, well what we should do is suspend the constitution and that the government should rule by decree.

KC     Is that what they said? I instinctively opposed it, opposed that concept. It wasn't a concept, it wasn't a proposal on which you had to vote. We were discussing what is awaiting SA behind the horizon. It was in that sense and what could have been perhaps a normal discussion then afterwards turned out to be a discussion amongst colleagues almost taking sides with De Klerk or whoever proposed such a possibility. PW didn't express a specific opinion. Another man who actually expressed himself rather strongly against suspension of the government and governing by decree, which is nothing else but an emergency situation really, was Chris Heunis.

POM     Yes, he mentions him.

KC     So what happened there perhaps did not count against FW, it wasn't held against FW.

POM     Did the military say this isn't somebody who is exactly on – ?

KC     Not then, no not then. I don't know whether he says that in his book but it wasn't then. This is some time before PW fell ill.

POM     He says this is shortly after he became leader of the party.

Tape No. 2

KC     Meeting Jan d'Oliviera all the time, preparing him, and then I wrote a letter even before the report was filed, I wrote a letter authorising him to take the investigation now to the prosecution stage.

POM     You wrote a letter to?

KC     D'Oliviera, Attorney General.

POM     You can't remember the name of whom that – there wasn't Ferdi, the guy who had made the allegations against - that was signed, about the lie by the Harms Commission to be lying and then subsequently turned out when Goldstone in 1994 - ?

KC     I will have to check because I think there were quite a few incidents where people had lied to Harms and later had to admit that they were lying. Wasn't General Joubert one of them?

POM     It later emerged when Goldstone in his report in 1994 , the one I quoted, just weeks before the elections where he said that he has now uncovered information that would suggest that security forces have been involved in killings.My recollection is, and I will have to check this, that Kat Liebenberg was one of the main operatives who authorised these actions, the setting up of the CCB, the setting up of the covert (what is it? lovely name – that one I just mentioned), somebody set these things up.

KC     Yes I know.

POM     De Klerk as I recall appointed Liebenberg Chief of Staff, did he not? It was De Klerk who appointed Liebenberg Chief of Staff?

KC     The defence force … should be accorded to the security in the sense of their actions in an emergency, as was then the situation. Remember 1984 onwards we were living in an emergency situation with special powers. It just so happened that it was on my desk and it just so happened that all the rules were drafted on my desk but the police were to execute them and time and again I found Mr de Klerk and Mr Heunis supporting me with the rules and regulations that I promoted to replace existing laws. An emergency enables the government to replace existing laws with more effective rules and regulations to suspend parliamentary laws. That's what it boils down to. You take measures and take powers outside what parliament has authorised. This is what an emergency is and it just so happened that it was on my desk and time and again I felt Mr de Klerk and Mr Heunis supporting me because we had a set of regulations, I would challenge that at Security Council level as being too meddlesome, as being too over-cautious and not allowing them enough power. As a matter of fact I had to meet, I had to go to several meetings, political meetings, explaining why we were binding the arms of the police. Can you believe that? Nevertheless, we succeeded. Mr de Klerk was always supportive of our concept. We succeeded in establishing a new approach in the eighties in terms of which it became more and more clear that there was a group in cabinet who would not allow military or police powers to supersede.      Then Mr de Klerk didn't hold any particular portfolio which –

POM     Just to summarise that part of the conversation to make sure I'm getting it in the right context, is that on the one hand you had a situation where the National Security Council or the police themselves or the military or whomever, were proposing draconian powers for the police and you being the minister who had to sign off on these things was saying, no, that's not acceptable.

KC     It's the other way round. They didn't propose draconian powers. It was my department's duty to draw up and I was taken to task for not giving them sufficient powers, curbing their powers, getting judges to visit the detainees, getting magistrates to visit them, getting the district surgeons to visit them and to have daily reports filed. We had a very unpleasant experience in the Eastern Province when Wendy Orr exposed maltreatment of detainees and they exposed it very cleverly at the beginning of a National Party Congress, but in the end we prevailed. So it's rather the other way round.

POM     I've got it.

KC     Mr de Klerk was never really a military man in the sense that he reacted to the sound of the drums and the trumpets, he wasn't that kind of man. I was. So Mr de Klerk in a sense relied on me, that's what I understood at the time and that's what I also experienced at the time. He relied on my judgement of the balance. We got together, FW, Chris, myself and Stoffel Botha (of the NP) from time to time, we got together from time to time. We discussed policy and we didn't connive or form a pact, we were all four lawyers, all four of us, and we had a natural affiliation for the same discipline, namely the law. So when Mr de Klerk came into power it's possible, I can't say that's not the case, but it's possible that the military could have remembered their earlier experience and his earlier pronouncements and his non-participation in military matters. I don't know whether he participated or not, but it's possible that they did so. But I would be surmising if I would say that, but it wouldn't have concerned me, it wouldn't have bothered me. I'll tell you why, more or less at the same time things started to fall apart around the military. The Bureau of Civil Co-operation –

POM     Civil Co-operation, I want to get to that later.

KC     But it's part of this. The Bureau of Civil Co-operation became exposed.

POM     OK, now just stop there for a moment. Again, I'm almost repeating verbatim, De Klerk says in January 1990 when he was on vacation some place outside Cape Town he got a call from General Magnus Malan to say, "I've got to come and see you rather urgently." He flew down that night and met with Mr de Klerk, President de Klerk then, the following morning and said, "Gee, I have discovered the existence of something called the Civil Co-operation Bureau which I gather has been up to all kinds of illegal activities and God knows what. This is the first time I've heard of it." Now if you were President would you not say: General Malan, how long have you been Minister of Defence?

KC     Ten years. And you didn't know about it?

POM     Are you telling me in ten years as Minister of Defence, as a key aide, colleague, confidante of the former President, Mr PW Botha, that you had absolutely no knowledge at all that within structures over which you have had total control it's only now that you come upon it and, gee! I've suddenly discovered the existence of the Civil Co-operation Bureau and they've been breaking the law left, right and centre. If that is the case then you have not carried out your responsibilities and you are fired. That's what's called accountability. You're responsible for your ministerial work, portfolio. I find you in total dereliction and the next thing is you're out of here. One other thing, Christ! Let's set up a commission and see what happened.

KC     Gave effect to the Harms Commission.

POM     I want you to put - if you're in the position of being President how would you have reacted to saying, Magnus you must have been derelict if you don't know about this. What do we do about it? But to tell me that you didn't know about it is not just difficult to believe, it's almost impossible to believe.

KC     A minister comes and he says genuinely I did not know. I authorised the formation of an Intelligence Bureau. Then there's a dereliction of duty in the sense of Magnus not receiving reports, a huge budget and it's all about intelligence. Now he calls me in and he says –

POM     Who calls you?

KC     De Klerk. How do you think the commission started? And he said this is what happened, it's the last thing we can afford now. The last thing we can afford now that my worst suspicions are true.

POM     His worst suspicions being?

KC     That Magnus was in the know, he had the knowledge about it, that Magnus is lying to him.

POM     And he says to you, what do we do?

KC     He says to me, "I need time to assess all this. This could be much deeper." He wanted to nominate a judge that is incorruptible and fearless, and I said to him there are a couple of them, some more than others, but the one person that is absolutely fearless is Judge Harms, if things were such he could go to the military and he could attach all documents. According to his report, and you should read his report, documents vanished overnight. He had always to arrest people. He made recommendations, I will just have to see whether there's a record, he made recommendations that led to further and still further and still further delving into the intelligence activities of the military.

POM     By whom? Then you had Steyn.

KC     FW got interim reports.

POM     From Harms?

KC     From Harms. Harms then exposed, but they were so well organised, they were so much underground, they were so much outside the law, that to call that as apartheid tools is scandalous because they were never given, they were never conceived by the Security Council or wherever.

POM     But somebody must have created them.

KC     Well no, the point is Magnus possibly hooked onto a sentence authorising better intelligence and intelligence becoming part of strategy. I'm surmising now how it could have happened. Or not even that as he was so much of a political animal then, perhaps someone else. That is what happened. Now if I remember correctly Tim McNally was on his staff, Irishman, with Lysol. You know Lysol? The cleansing detergent Lysol. He has Lysol in his blood that Irishman. But the point you must understand is that they were so well organised. The suggestion has been that he actually just scratched on the surface. It's not true. They were so well organised that they went underground, getting paper to just vanish, and yet he sent personnel over walls to attach files.

     Another time, the Lubovsky murder we talked about, is my memory serving me correctly?

POM     Which one, Lubovsky? Anton Lubovsky, yes.

KC     And Magnus made a statement in parliament, I had some other business, I just went in for a very short while but I could see FW heavily agitated. Harms on the surface did not succeed but if you read their report property, if you follow the line of events, you will see that what they started there actually led up to the Vlakplaas exposure.

POM     I want to again move backwards.

KC     You can ask questions. Harms is today an Appeal Court judge. He is internationally recognised as one of the top civil lawyers in the country, if not in the world, arbitration and so forth, and yet he was criticised even by FW in the book. I thought of taking it up with him. I need not defend Harms of course, he's not properly being assessed on his report.

POM     I just want to move backwards again to make sure that I have things in sequence. Magnus comes to de Klerk, informs him of the existence of the CCB, says he has just heard about it for the first time. FW has his suspicions about this, believes even that Magnus may be lying. The last thing he needs is a scandal of this proportion on his hands. He talks to you and says –

KC     No, no, because should Magnus speak the truth we would be blowing it out of complete proportion. You understand? If Magnus had been talking the truth, not knowing about it, he's a bad administrator – it doesn't make him a criminal. So instead of running – of course I was an anti-commission person. From experience I was absolutely anti-commission and every time he appointed a commission he had to persuade me. But FW's approach was: we must make certain it wasn't a cover up. It was we must make certain, we can't afford to have an unjustified scandal on our hands. At the time, you must remember, what Harms brings out in his report was these little cowboy games, Tutu, the monkey foetus that was in Tutu's garden. All right I'm telling you now what's in the report, I'm not giving you secret information. Cowboys and crooks. Now Eugene de Kock claims it started with them. Harms says, no, it started with these people. On the face of it they were engaged in cowboys and crooks games like boys. That's what they found. There was this effort on Omar's life and there was this bomb in a dustbin. You can check against my … I haven't looked at these for years now, it's coming back now.

     So I think FW was justified in being cautious appointing a judge before he actually acted against Magnus. Then came the Lubovsky issue, Magnus almost under siege. He then asked Magnus to reconsider his portfolio and he resigned his portfolio and became Minister of Water Affairs.

POM     That was over Inkathagate. That was over the money that was –

KC     Yes but it all added up.

POM     Was he asked before Inkathagate broke, that was broken by the Mail & Guardian?

KC     My words were then came Lubovsky and it all added up and De Klerk asked him – you're right, then came Inkathagate. And then of course from Inkathagate also the alleged training of one hundred IFP for the purpose, licence to kill – like 007, licence to kill. That was the case against Magnus which they couldn't prove. Now what I'm saying to you is that surely Mr de Klerk had a case for mal-administration against Magnus, but he didn't have a case to brand him as in cahoots with his errant officers but there was surely a matter of mal-administration. De Klerk of course could have done so.

POM     But he should have known.

KC     I can't tell you how I would have handled it. The matter of fact is that's the way it went and I think he was completely justified in being cautious.

POM     I'm maybe looking at it from a slightly different angle and that would be that under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility a minister who had come forward to say that he did not know about a covert operation –

KC     But there was nothing wrong in not knowing about every detail of a covert operation.

POM     Lord Carrington resigned as Secretary of Foreign Affairs in Britain because he didn't have his eye sufficiently on the fact that Argentinean ships were steaming towards the Falklands.

KC     It was immediately known, it was a fact immediately known. What we're talking about is a secret operation, a covert operation. On the surface of that what have they done wrong?

POM     But what is the minister accountable for?

KC     What have they done wrong at that point of time? But it was only after the Harms Commission filed a report and they saw what they were doing with their budget, he saw what they were doing – they were playing ducks and drakes, cowboys and crooks, and it was then he slowly started to deal with Magnus. Well you know, I told you about this, when Magnus resigned he called me in and my colleagues called me in, they wanted to make me Minister of Defence. When Magnus went as Minister of Defence they called me in, senior colleagues, and they wanted me to take over the Defence portfolio and I said on one condition, I retain Justice because I have a programme there. They had a discussion amongst themselves and Mr de Klerk phoned me later that night and he said, no, the colleagues say they don't see their way clear. I said in that case he must either tell me to resign or vacate Justice but 'I can't vacate Justice because I can't see any damn fool handling Justice besides you or myself'. Those were my words. Only the two of us could handle Justice. I was busy in a programme, had a programme, establishing the constitutional state of which we're so proud now.

POM     Before I leave Magnus I'm saying again, what do you understand - ?

KC     But you're not fair. You're not writing history, you are now passing a judgement on the judgement of the President. You can criticise him for not handling Magnus firmly enough but it's a matter of degree. He did not sit back, he did not deal with Magnus on – but he did deal with Magnus.

POM     I'm putting it in a context and the context is that you had a system of governance that held ministers responsible for the portfolios they held.

KC     But at the time it was not serious enough to invoke that rule. At that point of time when the news about the CCB broke it wasn't serious enough. It was a covert operation, it was a covert thing. I lived with it. Take it from me we did not know what they were up to but had we known, had we had the full facts, yes there and then.

POM     Yes, but there's a difference between you knowing – (break in recording)

POM     - being ten years Minister of Defence.

KC     I refused to speak to him.

POM     I just want to clarify a few things from yesterday and it turned out to be a small portion of the tape was missing. But you had said to me, I recall, that from the Harms Commission flowed everything that led to the exposure of Vlakplaas and whatever. Now after the Harms Commission you had FW de Klerk setting up the Goldstone Commission to look into the causes of public violence.

KC     It wasn't immediately after, it was sometime later.

POM     Then at the same time he set up the General Pierre Steyn Commission, a one-man commission to investigate covert activities in the military and that was the one where he came back to him, as I recall from his biography, saying that a number of senior officers were involved one way or another with covert activities and he gave the impression that – then De Klerk says he called in Kat Liebenberg who at these disclosures became distinctly uncomfortable and then he met with his colleagues and decided that some heads would have to roll and he requested the early retirement of 16 officers in all, including six senior officers, two Generals, three Brigadiers and he said on advice he did not ask for the resignation of Kat Liebenberg. I recall you saying that you were among the ministers who advised at the time that Liebenberg too should go.

KC     No, no, we advised to the contrary.

POM     He should stay?

KC     Yes.

POM     Now this is where I wanted to get back to. Were you, again, doing that – you're in a situation which is tricky. On the one hand you're bringing the military along with you as you have to do and on the other hand you can't take an action that is so dramatic that it creates havoc in the senior ranks of the military and turns them still further against the reforms and approaches you are instituting.

KC     From my point of view it was a better strategy to involve the Chief of the Defence Force in the decision as well. If he were to be asked to go he wouldn't have been in that position and as it was we agreed with the President that they go. It was as much his decision as it was a cabinet decision, rather cabinet and Mr de Klerk. Secondly, the basis of Mr de Klerk's decision was rather fragile.

POM     Fragile in the sense that General Steyn hadn't produced 'concrete' -

KC     We didn't speak to Steyn himself, it was Mr de Klerk who related to us.

POM     He says there was no Steyn Report as such, there was no written report.

KC     No, no. Mr de Klerk was in the mood to ask quite a number more to resign including Liebenberg and I believe that our advice to him was the correct advice and as it was we defended at least in remaining Mr de Klerk's decision.

POM     So you were using a variation of Lyndon Johnson's famous phrase that it's better to have somebody inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in?

KC     Yes, whatever urinal comparisons you may choose to use here. As I say, the basis was rather fragile. We weren't allowed to delve into it too deeply.

POM     When you say you weren't allowed to, not allowed to by?

KC     To ask too many questions. Mr de Klerk said he had made up his mind. I'm now talking of the colleagues. So that was the approach, rather hesitant, not knowing that this is the right thing. At the time Eugene Louw was Minister of Defence and he sided with the President. I succeeded him, you know that of course, some time later. But I was under the impression that it was very fragile and I was under the impression Mr de Klerk was looking more for a token of his position as Commander in Chief to impress his position, rather to consolidate his position as Commander in Chief. So up to now nothing tangible has been offered against these officers. Myself, when I became minister, was faced with one of the first court actions by some of these people and I had two of them reinstated, two or three.

POM     It was a court action against their dismissal?

KC     Yes, for unlawful dismissal. I had them reinstated and I made a statement in parliament. I think it was Nieuwoudt and another officer and I made a statement in parliament where I had protection and privilege that the investigations against them, the alleged misconduct, was still being investigated and if anything is found there will be a prosecution by the Attorney General. It was a wording which I worked out with him personally, with D'Oliviera.

     By then I had already tasked D'Oliviera to investigate allegations about the forces, things that flowed from the Goldstone Commission reports and so on. As it turned out they were reinstated but they knew that there was going to be an investigation, as it turned out we did the right thing by reinstating them and nothing could be found against the one. Against the other one, yes, later on he asked to be released. He resigned of his own accord, one of the other officers.

     Then I was in a position to follow my own strategy and as far as the Generals are concerned Thirion and Roux, the one is at present the subject of a court case. You're aware of that?

POM     He's subject to?

KC     No, his claim is the subject of a court case.

POM     Still?

KC     For defamation, this time based on defamation against Mr de Klerk. You're not aware of that?

POM     No.

KC     Yes, Thirion.

POM     You had been saying?

KC     I think I'm rather providing you with information that I've gleaned from a superficial reading of the newspapers lately, but since I had a material interest at the time in the welfare of these officers and I did sympathise with most of them, I can give you the information but I can't give you the detail. I think our motivation was based in terms of what I said in parliament on Mr de Klerk and the Chief of the Defence Force right to reorganise the defence force and if they require requisition to ask the incumbent or the personnel in that position to vacate. In a sense I think that went a long way to put the whole matter to rest because up till then there was not really any substantial explanation why they were regarded as either a security risk or unfit for office, but in terms of the Defence Act the State President and the Chief of the Defence Force have very wide powers to ask a person to vacate his position. Therefore Thirion never sued really for unlawful dismissal, he is suing now on defamation.

POM     Defamation of character. Going back to the speech that De Klerk made to the military in March of 1990, first of all he made one to the police in January of 1990 saying from now on police were not to be involved in any political activity, they're not to be partisan, they are to confine their activities solely to the protection of lives and the combating of crime, and he sensed some misgivings in the ranks at the time. In fact there was a confidential meeting and a tape of the meeting was released to the media who printed it in full which confirmed to him that not everybody in the police agreed with what he was saying. Then he repeated the speech, that was a month before Mr Mandela's release, and then a month after Mr Mandela's release he addressed senior officers in the SADF and repeated the same message and here he could feel a great deal more resentment, misgivings, hostility. He says he knew he had to carry the military with him and yet be wary. What strategy, I suppose this is the basis of the question, what strategy did he adopt on the one hand to keep the military in check and with him and on the other to curb their activities and did the ANC appreciate the constraints that he was under insofar as his capacity to deal with the military was there? They, after all, were the ones who had the guns, they could have made things very difficult for him so he couldn't afford to treat them with iron gloves, he had to treat them with kid gloves.

KC     I think that the circumstances of the times rather favoured Mr de Klerk and then the managerial crisis caused by Magnus Malan's lack of control also favoured Mr de Klerk, in the sense that the Bureau was uncovered, was at the time perceived as a cowboys and crooks little organisation with nothing serious really on their mind but to collect information and now and again pull off a dirty trick, not authorised to kill, no licence to kill, just a lot of unsavoury characters drawn from the intelligence world primarily but police and defence force and old operatives returning to the fold of that organisation. Now the fact that they were uncovered, the fact that now for the first time these unsavoury characters - not all of them were unsavoury, some of them were fine people, very fine Intelligence operators let me tell you, but there were unsavoury ones amongst them, Ferdi Barnard was one of them. This actually favoured Mr de Klerk in getting a grip over the defence force. If you are caught in an erring situation as an individual, if you're caught on the back foot this is what happens. Secondly, the Goldstone Commission was then well on its way and it uncovered also another secret project of another secret wing of Military Intelligence.

POM     Was it the Directorate of Covert Collection?

KC     Yes. It got hold of their files and everything indicated towards non-compliance with the mainstream of thinking at the time. The question was whether they also had an active arm inside in the operational forces. Goldstone and Tory Pretorius, the one who is prosecuting De Kock now, especially Tory Pretorius, were very active in probing and probing and establishing the depth of all this. That one directorate I think was completely suspended and their operatives resigned and some of them were amongst the 23. So Mr de Klerk caught them on the wrong foot, on their back foot. He caught them on their back foot, he caught them rather disorganised, the elements there were seeing a different agenda. So I think his strategy was, and I'm surmising now, to reduce this imbalance that he had caused in their ranks to establish himself.

     By then Vlakplaas was also uncovered and the military were doing their darndest best to show that there was no connection between Vlakplaas and the military, that they were rogue elephants on their own. Now the careers of so many thousands of good soldiers were on line. They immediately rallied behind Mr de Klerk, Navy, Air Force, many of the army people. Then, now I'm talking already of the time when I was minister, I think I was part of his strategy. I was part of his strategy to ensure control over the defence force and at the same time use the defence force positively in the transformation process. Now was the third time that he invited me to become Minister of Defence and for the third time I repeated, "Yes, but I don't relinquish Justice, I still have the 1993 legislative programme. No-one else can do it and no-one has the background to it and no-one supports the philosophy of the constitutional state, at least in such a way that they understand it or have actually shown it." I flattered Mr de Klerk every time and I think he felt flattered by saying to him the only two people that really can do this is you and I and I said perhaps I'm effective but I'm not sure that he, De Klerk, and I could do it.

     So now the third time they were in a mess, they were really in a mess. Two months earlier he had sacked his Generals. I think he felt he over-stepped the mark, he went too far. He didn't know what was coming, perhaps court cases and when I insisted the third time that I retain the Justice portfolio, yes that is what happened. Then my colleagues too, Pik Botha and Dawie de Villiers said yes.

POM     So you handled two portfolios.

KC     And the managing of the National Intelligence.

POM     And the management of National Intelligence. This would have been from?

KC     Previous to that I was Minister of Justice and National Intelligence. It was the time when FW took over from PW that he retained the portfolio of National Intelligence but he felt he didn't know what was perhaps waiting for him in the wings of these invisible operators. I think notably Dawie de Villiers said, "You must get distance between yourself and this, security forces and so forth and the intelligence forces. You don't know what is there." So I was given National Intelligence which was actually really only a matter of one more file on my desk which didn't really matter. I knew the portfolio well, I knew it very well. I understood their culture and they understood me so I was Minister of National Intelligence and Justice for a while. When they also offered me Defence again they suddenly awakened to the fact that for me to have three recognised portfolios, and I didn't want it either, would be too horrific to contemplate, so much power. So Mr de Klerk and myself, I went to see him and I suggested to him, "I do the administration, you be the minister. You be the minister of record for National Intelligence."

     So that was it. I continued with the administration, everything went through my hands and I worked with Mr de Klerk recognising him in every fashion. And it was in that process that we really opened up Vlakplaas. Some information that we got from the Attorneys General vis-à-vis the Craddock Four, investigations that followed from the re-opening of the Goniwe post mortem, all this added up to the moment where I gave special instructions to D'Oliviera to take on the prosecution and find himself an investigating team which was quite novel in SA for an Attorney General to handle an investigating team of his own.

POM     So it was the result of his investigations that he discovered Vlakplaas.

KC     De Kock, Barnard and now Basson. Not the ANC. I started to pursue the De Kock issue back in 1992 already.

POM     So then you had Goldstone. De Klerk says: -

     "It was only in March 1994, a few weeks before the elections on 27 April that a subsequent report of the Goldstone Commission revealed that elements in the SA Police had in fact been involved in murders and had used a farm called Vlakplaas as a base for their activities. This was the first definitive indication from the commission that elements of the security forces had indeed been involved in what had been described as a silent war against leaders and activities of the ANC and it's allies. Until the Goldstone Commission's revelations in 1994 its findings had seemed to confirm the repeated assurances that I had received from the security establishment that they were not involved in any kind of third force activity. However, I had not only relied on the Goldstone Commission trying to get to the bottom of the allegations regarding a so-called third force, I had also repeatedly exerted pressure on members of the security establishment in my efforts to establish the truth."

     Your investigations were part of his efforts to get to the bottom of what was going on?

KC     That report of Goldstone was proceeded of course by a very interesting development as a security policeman, realising of course that he certainly is going to be uncovered, came forward and said he was prepared to talk.

POM     Barnard was it? What was his name?

KC     I can't recall his name.

POM     He was one of the people who had been –

KC     What happened was he went to Goldstone. Goldstone said he wanted to see me urgently and it's about someone we need to take into protection and perhaps take them outside the country. We met in Bloemfontein. I was satisfied that Goldstone was on to something and had been waiting for this break for some time. So I phoned Mike Louw from Bloemfontein and I said to him, after consulting Mr de Klerk, he gave me the green light and he gave me a blank mandate to deal with it. I phoned Mike Louw and Mike immediately –

POM     What positions has he then held? Is he still Deputy Director of - ?

KC     No, Director General of National Intelligence. He was already then well informed because one of his sections doing covert intelligence was already also hot on the trail of these people and he immediately rose to the occasion and that individual, with his family, they were flown out of SA that very night or the next morning. They were kept in a safe house and they were flown out. That actually enabled Goldstone after listening to this person and other supporting evidence to file that last –

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.