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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

23 Nov 1999: Barnard, Niel

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POM     The first question I have for you refers, again these are questions from previous interviews, it was that you said,  "If we continue to manage the country in the way in which we are doing it right now I see conflict quite clearly looming again on the horizon in SA." And again, "This country will end up with a strong federal constitution. Either we do it peacefully or there will be conflict in the country in 50 or 100 years from now so either we do it or that is what I foresee for the coming years." Now that SA has gone through the experience of a second peaceful democratic election are your concerns about these matters as ominous as they were?

NB     I don't believe them to be ominous. I believe them to be realistic. Is it not true that the present trend in world politics, the present trend in the so-called Eastern European geographical area, specifically in Europe, even in the country of your birth and many others, that the capacity of governments to govern huge territoriums, which we nowadays call national states, are diminishing? Is it not a true, world-wide phenomenon that so-called regions, whatever that would mean, are more and more becoming important? I think that's the trend world-wide which we see everywhere. I believe that in this country, let me put it this way, effective government would mean effective delivery or improvement of the daily lives of round about 40 million people in this country. The question is, which way can you structure the government in such a way that you can uplift and improve the living conditions of the people?

     And in my view for the time being a strong central government, and for that reason I believe that the line of President Mbeki presently to take stronger control, I believe, than Mr Mandela in directing what is going on in this country and specifically because I'm still a Director General of a province experiencing much more pressure and expectation from Pretoria, you will have to deliver. Public servants must start delivering now, we must take the process forward, the honeymoon is over now. For this period I believe that's important but you would know that good government in the end can never be centrally controlled and that I will always be very strongly supportive of.

     Good government in the end can only be good if it can be done as close to the people as possible and there is no way, in how many years, in which Pretoria let's take policing for a moment, Pretoria will never be capable of delivering in terms of security, stability in Vredendal along the West Coast. It will have to be done I am not even sure that Waalstraat where we're sitting now, Cape Town for that matter, in the long run will be capable of maintaining security and stability in the far reaching corners of this very specific province. I believe that much more should be done in future to capacitate, so to speak, local communities to have their own capacity to develop in that way.

     The point I made quite clearly last time was that if we're going to force on this country for many years to come, a single kind of centristic, and you know politics, centristic means something in politics, centristic, absolute, almost autocratic order, it will in the end not succeed because there are too many natural interests, cultures, languages, whatever in this country and I believe one must take that into account in the years that lie ahead in the whole process of development. That's broadly what I meant when I said that.

POM     So is that the context in which I should judge your statement when you say we are making some very fundamental mistakes right now? Now you said that a year ago.

NB     Can I try to explain what I said, if I remember correctly, at least what I intended to say? The problem we have in this country right now is in the fact that we don't, I believe, understand the real essence of what government is all about. We don't know what public service is about. There is no way in which you can reward old cronies by appointing them as senior public servants and believe that they will be able to run a personnel of twenty, thirty, forty, fifty thousand people and a budget of how many hundred million, two, three, four, five billion rand. To do that, to run a few thousand people and a budget of one or two or three or five billion rand, you need experience. I think it's very important that somehow, I don't have the statistics, but if I remember correctly I once read, I must be wrong, that during the Battle of the Somme in the First World War, the time of a Lieutenant living on the front in the trenches was round about two minutes twenty-four seconds or something like that. Now the capacity of senior public servants in the past five years in this country has almost been, well it's at least been a very dangerous job, so to speak. How can you, and that's still the situation, how many DGs who have been appointed after 1994 are still in their responsibilities right now? And how can you develop and empower capacity, experience and take the public service forward if you don't understand that a certain level of stability will have to be built into this whole process. I think that's what I'm talking about.

     I'm not talking about the political side of things, that I'm rather convinced of. The so-called party political debate in this country right now is not extremely important I believe. Strangely enough, all in all, you would find parties across the board agreeing that on the following points, very basically: -

Ø     We must deliver

Ø     We must take the country forward

Ø     We must assist Africa

Ø     We must fight AIDS

Ø     We must fight TB.

     I really don't believe those fundamental differences which existed pre-1994. My argument is party politics is not that important in the future. The important thing right now, from my perspective, is not only the economy and creating jobs, etc., etc., it is in stabilising the capacity of the government and its public service core of round about 1.2 million, which should be much less than that in my view, to administer the country. That's the difficulty.

POM     This is a question you answered but I would like you to elaborate on because I'm using it as a kind of thesis for something, and that is that once De Klerk started, released Mandela and entered into 'formal' negotiations, was the end result not inevitable?

NB     In my view it was, yes. The answer is yes.

POM     To ask that in the context of your talking about De Klerk not having a sense of strategy, could part of his problem have been that since he knew the inevitable outcome that he couldn't articulate it to his colleagues because he would lose the support of his colleagues, that he could bring them only so far with him in terms of a loose power sharing arrangement or something like that but he couldn't really say, let's all understand what's going on here, at the end of the day it's going to be majority rule so let's develop a strategy to deal with the inevitability of majority rule. And since he couldn't articulate the problem in terms of its most probable outcome he couldn't develop a strategy to deal with that?

NB     I don't know what you've been discussing with Mr de Klerk himself, I presume that you've had many hours with him as well. It could possibly be, it would always be in political science the main thrust. You have a so-called powerful security capacity in this country, if you now almost bluntly told them, listen we've started a process, it could end up in a government ruling this country which will be democratic and which will certainly not be the same as it is now, you might possibly contemplate the possibility of some kind of reaction from them which would be unacceptable. I would argue rather strongly, and perhaps you should test this with people like General Malan and some people in the military specifically, whatever you think about the military of the time they were perhaps the most enlightened people in this perspective to a certain extent. Broadly speaking they knew about the battle for the hearts and the minds of people and the fact that this and that - I'm not going to go into that detail.

     My experience with Mr de Klerk comes from the fact that in endless and numerous meetings of endless hours, sitting, I can almost remember no opportunity in which the question was asked the end of this process will be that. And I'm not now talking about open discussions before the public, in an area or amongst people who should have been thinking about the future, not at all, that's my argument, Mr de Klerk's attitude. At least I was not present where that was discussed. His attitude was, working on the day to day almost, to use a military term, tactical developments because I believe Mr de Klerk, I say I believe that Mr de Klerk, that's my view, had the idea that we would almost be like poker players, clever enough to outwit the other side by playing poker. You can never win poker if you don't know what the bloody goals are in the end and where you're heading. That was my frustration and it still to this day is my frustration.

     Let's put it the other way around, the moment you start these discussions it should have been quite obvious this will be the end of the process. If that is going to be the end of the process what should we now do to convince our constituency that that's the only way to go. Then you should start communicating about that. That would be, and I am not so sure at that time, let's look at the party politics; who could have been in party political terms a so-called threat to Mr de Klerk for not changing the whole process? I believe if we would have been much more open about that is what we will eventually end up in, we could have much earlier on changed the mindset of the whole population and perhaps earlier on have taken the process forward.

     My frustration to this day, I think let me pull this one other card out of the pocket, almost once in every three, four months at the time, not only in the smaller Roelf Meyer group where the whole issue was so-called discussed, some very top questions: what are we going to do, what are we going to do with the Record of Understanding, etc., etc.? It was never discussed in real strategic terms. That's the point I'm making certainly will not take the De Klerk government off the hook, by not at least in the inner corridors of power and in the Kitchen Cabinet talking openly about what the future would be.

POM     I asked him about this Kitchen Cabinet and he said he didn't really have one. I don't know whether that's true or not or whether he had an informal circle of advisers. He mentioned one Professor at RAU University.

NB     Francois Venter? Rautenbach perhaps?

POM     That's it yes.

NB     I believe Mr de Klerk is perhaps one of those leaders who didn't really need any other team of negotiations, even any other leadership core. I don't think you change the course of history by being too clever and being too good. I don't think you can do that. The river of history flows in a certain direction and we are mere mortals who from time to time can try to slow, stem the tide here a little bit, but you cannot alter the course of history. That was part of the history. But what we didn't do right was that we should have, and I've made this point also before, we should have, I think, had a stronger federal second-tier capacity whereas Mr de Klerk very firmly believed in the checks and balances of the Rechtstaat, so-called constitutional state, a typical German model. It doesn't work. I can remember very clearly putting that view in the meeting of the group, the Cabinet and public servants getting together. I was firmly committed, writing into the constitution, almost enforcing the leaders of this country that for a period of ten years, even more than that, I believed at the time it wouldn't have been bad if you could have the new model in work, create a lot of new works in this country now, clusters, all the economic and all the security and whatever more, that's the new buzz word, clusters. But be that as it may, I at the time argued if you look at the economic field in broad terms and the security field and the educational field, why could you not have had a situation where you can make a division to take the process forward. All right perhaps not for the politicians. But to answer your question

POM     The military, I know General Viljoen for one said there would never have been a coup or anything like that. A passage in his biography, this is in January 1990, where he says he gave a speech to 800 senior officers and said no more politics, they were to devote their time to law and order and the preservation and protection of people and he said he could detect some slight misgivings among the officers. That was before Mandela was released. Then he says a tape of his remarks was released to the press even though it was supposed to be confidential so he knew at least there were some people who weren't quite on his side. Then he went a month after Mr Mandela was released to the SADF and gave the same speech.

NB     I think on this one, because I know time is valuable, I think I can give you perhaps a very good perspective on that specific one. I was not present at those meetings where Mr de Klerk was talking to military and to senior police officers but that's not the reason. Remember, Mr PW Botha was to a large extent in very close relationship with the so-called security community at the time, Defence Force, National Intelligence Service, the police to a lesser extent, but they were close in working with him. Mr de Klerk was never an insider in that process. I've told you before and I'm certain other people have told you as well, the moment when he became President I was called into his office, as a matter of fact I offered, not in a stupid way, I told him, "Mr President, you're now the President, there should be a very intimate relationship between a head of an Intelligence Service and a head of a government. Let me tell you it's true. I've been working twelve years for Mr Botha, obviously I've had a very close relationship with him. If you want to appoint somebody of your own choice, do it." I've served at that time almost ten years, I will find another job. But just after that we had quite a straightforward discussion and I can remember his words, and that I will quote up till the end of the days, his exact words were, in Afrikaans in English translated it would be, "I will see to it that Cabinet and government will be restored to its full order in this country." What does that say? It says you public servants and you Generals now influencing my predecessor, it will not happen under my watch, as the Americans call it. It was never a close and warm relationship between Mr de Klerk and the security forces.

     So what happened during that time? I was, let me at least say, yes, I was involved in telling Mr de Klerk that you cannot take this country forward during the process of negotiations with the security establishment whom you dislike, so it seems, putting it rather bluntly, and who possibly don't know you, because if we're going to enter into negotiations it was never about bringing calm in a period where there might be a possible coup. That was not the point, talk to the police, the senior officer corps and talk to the Defence Force, at least talk to them what you see in the future so that a better relationship can develop between you who obviously didn't have the same kind of close co-operation with these people because, Mr President, when the real negotiations start it will be tough and it will be difficult and somebody will have to maintain stability and order because all along, and this is a very fundamental point, from my perspective during the time, how can you in the SA of the early nineties envisage a process where you will have to do some very tough negotiations, where the country is in turmoil, where there are possibilities of increasing instability? There's only one capacity to maintain stability to enable the process of negotiations to be rather stable and peaceful and that is the security establishment of the time. That was the basic discussion and I'm absolutely sure about it, Mr de Klerk didn't talk, as far as I know, to the security establishment and he didn't talk to the Defence Force only. He certainly talked to the police but he was expose yourself to these people, they will have to do important duty. You see that's the problem when it's not in your mother tongue as you're talking, you're using words which then in the end are quoted.

POM     Empathy, would empathy be a better word?

NB     Yes. You had to develop a closer understanding. He himself as well because if you're in politics you must understand that maintaining security specifically in a country like SA is critical.

POM     What assumptions did the government make about its own bargaining position and what assumptions did the ANC make about its own bargaining position that both proved to be false?

NB     A difficult one, I'm almost tempted to say that perhaps other people tell you no. I would rather try to be a little bit more philosophical about this and put it this way: is it not the historical inevitability when the two are in the process there were times I was sitting there and I was writing a note to people and the note would have been the following words: sometimes the people from the ANC remind me of the likes of General de Wet and MT Steyn and the so-called Boer heroes when we were fighting not the Irish but the British. What does that say? That is saying, when you have been perhaps in power for too long you basically all in all I think

POM     Is that a matter of underestimating both the brain power and the preparedness of the ANC?

NB     I would really very, very strongly advise against   The passion of people, looking back it's rather stupid that it was on the list because they were now finally reaching what they have been facing for 80 odd years.

POM     That brings me to the question of, and this goes back to CODESA 2, who stood to gain most from a long drawn-out negotiating process, the ANC or the government?

NB     The ANC.

POM     Because?

NB     I don't know whether you understand this but after Boipatong, you obviously know it, sometimes you even know it better than I do but be that as it may, after Boipatong negotiations were broken off. How do you start that again? I tell you that the first meeting I know of during the time was held in the National Intelligence Services Training Academy outside Pretoria which we arranged. During the meeting, if I remember correctly, I hope I remember correctly, I was certainly present with Roelf Meyer, Fanie van der Merwe, myself, there might have been somebody else, I'm not sure. On the other side if I remember correctly obviously Ramaphosa, I don't know whether Nhlanhla was present, Slovo, Zuma was there, Zuma and Ramaphosa. There was some press speculation about it if I remember correctly where we almost, without authority so it seemed to us for the ANC because the view was they were expressly forbidden to re-start talking to this bloody government, we were now going to use rolling mass action, restart negotiations as early as possible. After that meeting, it was only after that meeting that the so-called 'channel' meetings started which eventually we had with the so-called Record of Understanding, and you know that. Please bear in mind that the Record of Understanding, if my memory serves me well, Fanie van der Merwe was the original drafter, him and Mac Maharaj, but the point was, can you imagine that if you couldn't find agreement while Mandela was still on the scene, clearly trying to, within the confines of the possible, finding an agreement, if he was not there the argument clearly was who will then take over the position? It would perhaps have been much worse, perhaps the war could have started all over again or the conflict or whatever. So that was an added reason and remember during the time he was a sick man, that had to be taken into account as well.

POM     You said that the problem on the government side was that on the channel that the two government officials involved, yourself and Van der Merwe, were not elected officials. Why did that prove to be a problem?

NB     What kind of perspective do you want? Yes, how must I put it, quite obviously it might have been better if, yes, two government officials could have had the same kind of executive equality which typical members of Cabinet would have had.

POM     That's why I suppose the way I had it, why would De Klerk choose to have his government represented rather than senior ministers, by senior civil servants?

NB     I don't want to

POM     It was an easy one. This is a sentence I cut you off on, it still requires one word. To quote, "It would have been difficult for FW to have a strong charismatic Minister of Foreign Affairs heading the negotiating team so he rather chose some other whom he thought he could "  and then I interrupted you. That he could have more control over?

NB     I wouldn't use the word control, but Minister Pik Botha would have been a strong contender for the position during that time.

POM     He was still making decisions. In the view you've given me, and by the way something that I've written about already, that his base, when you look where he came from it was party politics and therefore his outlook on things, his mindset, he was having to deal with party politics and trying to apply it to larger picture and it didn't apply.

NB     Without any doubt I think that's one of the fundamental views which one should take into account. And he couldn't. Yes, that's the basic situation. Now remember, always remember, that he kicked off with a team being headed by Gerrit Viljoen. Remember that. The process started not with Roelf Meyer chairing it, Gerrit Viljoen kicked off and there was a group of ministers including during that time even Barend du Plessis. Gerrit Viljoen was chairing, Meyer was there and a few public servants, Fanie van der Merwe and myself were present there as well. He was responsible in my view to a large extent in the final analysis for he would possibly deny it if you asked Gerrit Viljoen, but Gerrit Viljoen in the end was just incapable of handling Kobie Coetsee. Kobie Coetsee was one of those guys who usually started in what was in those days called the Hendrik Verwoerd Gebou, now 120 Plein Street on the 11th floor, the long building over there where our offices were because we had a huge conference room, we started in the afternoons about four o'clock. So after we've discussed some matters, at six o'clock in would come Kobie Coetsee and he would say, "Well what are you going to do about A, B, C, D or E?" And Mr Viljoen would be saying, "We've discussed that point, we've finalised it", and he (Coetsee) would be saying, "Oh, well I don't agree, what have you decided?" Dr Viljoen for all his intellectual capacity never understood that politics is not played as we say it in Afrikaans, he never understood that politics is almost played in the gutters of life. It's a tough game, you must be tough. It's not an academic interest where only Queensborough rules apply.

POM     In the end Dr Viljoen was incapable of handling Coetsee?

NB     I would not be satisfied if one would say that was making the argument that he was incapable. The point is

POM     Difficulty.

NB     He was not up to managing this very difficult process. He couldn't handle him. Remember there were tough times around that table. Dr Viljoen was not the kind of man who could have handled these concrete and turf battles. He was not used to that, he's an academic.

POM     He's an academic. Different metal. Very quickly, three minutes, the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, was that a turning point? I'm seeing Generals, I rang them up since you told me I should talk to more people on the military side, I've got General Meiring, Jannie Geldenhuys and Johan van der Merwe.

NB     If I could have advised, talking to Jan Geldenhuys and to Georg Meiring will be critical. Yes it was. I would be rather hesitant, I'm certain Jan Geldenhuys and specially Georg Meiring will give you very critical information if they would like to talk to you.

POM     They are, they're both willing to.

NB     The Battle of Cuito was important if you only look, if I might formulate it this way, if you only look at it from a purely military angle but in the broad sense of things Soviet Russia collapsing, perhaps through under pressure, negotiations taking place, SWA/Namibia, internal unrest in the country, international sanctions, the Eminent Persons Group and so on, one can go on. It was not that very specifically important in the broader sense because the decision to 'fight it out on the battlefields of southern Africa until the last drop' was then already being quite clearly taken. That's the point. But it was a turning point.

     May I just give you one important military perspective? The distance between Pretoria and the northern part of SWA during the time, if I remember correctly was more or less the same distance which Napoleon and even the Germans had to supply to reach Moscow and Stalingrad and Leningrad, in Napoleon's case Moscow. Remember, and you know military history and strategy quite well, what did it take for a military machine to have one fighting infantry soldier or whatever somewhere in the bushes in southern Angola? What kind of logistical support over a distance which was quite exceptional from the South African - ?

POM     A person told me of a conversation he had with an officer involved who said, "I can take Luanda", and the other person

NB     I have to go.

POM     Two last questions and if they're not relevant just say so. One, were there lessons learned from the negotiations in Namibia that you were able to apply to the negotiating process here?

NB     Yes, what would they be? A lot of experience, I believe, a lot of understanding on a personal level. I'm not so sure, because Foreign Affairs and Pik Botha were not intimately involved in the process, that the experience we gained as a country as a team was necessarily in this whole process. Bear in mind that when I was for two years discussing, perhaps you have mercy on my time schedule at the time, when I was discussing with Mr Mandela in Victor Verster and Pollsmoor since 1988 we were absolutely in the very critical phases of flying around the globe from bloody Congo Brazzaville to Cuba to Geneva finalising 435 Cuban troop withdrawal, SWA independence, etc., etc.

POM     You said if I didn't ask you?

NB     Very briefly, I would have liked to talk longer on those. The most important one in my view, is the fact that during the preliminary phase we were able to break the ice, to tackle the tough issues, to discuss openly with each other in absolute and total confidence. You cannot, during the initial phases, and that applies in my mind to the Irish situation and the Middle East and wherever more, you cannot, to a certain extent you can now ask me: but Barnard, does it not fly in the face of your previous argument? It's something which one must talk about, but it's my considered opinion that you cannot really set the stage if you're not prepared to do it in a process where you can do it in confidence behind closed doors. You're a historian, we must study what happened during the Congress of Vienna which perhaps has been one of the most important historical developments where behind closed doors people talk business and at night they dance on the waltzes of Strauss, so to speak. Whereas, you would know with Wilson and his stupid open governance of peace, this opened up the process, I don't think you can do tough bargains while your constituents are watching you all the time. It just cannot be done that way. I will never be convinced that it can be done that way. That's one important reason I think which is critically important.

     The second point, and that I think is also important to remember because it's been asked many times, why did you choose or advise or whatever to start the process with Mandela and never try to find a settlement with people who are not really occupying the seat of power. Sometimes it seems to be that people believe that you can talk to people standing behind the throne or you can have an entrance by other people which I fundamentally don't trust, and now we can laugh about that, don't trust the bloody British and the Eminent Persons Group or the United Nations or whoever, the Organisation of African Unity or all the private sectors or all the churches or all the religions, they all want to influence the process. There's nobody in there who plays a so-called brokering role who was not interested in taking some part of the cake.

     I think that was one of the, I believe, one of the very first points on which Mr Mandela and myself very early on had a very specific understanding. I told him, "Mr Mandela kom ons praat direk." We're not interested in facilitating groups and the UN and the Commonwealth and Margaret Thatcher and the Eminent Persons and Obasanjo from Nigeria and everybody else, let's talk straightforward. One shouldn't talk through a third party. Why should we be manipulated? That perhaps is one of the main lessons I learned during that question from the Namibian experience. I was a little bit humiliated by the South Africans and the Angolans sitting at the table and Big Brother being the Americans and the Soviet Union, Cubans to a certain extent, sitting around the table and here the small South Africans and Angolans just have to watch them playing according to the rules set by Moscow and Havana and Washington. It was always with me a deep-seated, absolute irritation. I think that's three basic lessons.

POM     Last question and it's a kind of a theoretical one. It's that you did your thesis on the Role of Power in International Politics. What thesis did you have, what thesis did you examine and what conclusions did you come to that you brought to public life? Is that too long?

NB     No, it was one very basic truth which still today is true. In international politics I've written a thesis of more than 1000 pages about which I'm very proud. I finished in 1975 so it's almost 25 years ago. Hell! If I look that again I must certainly change and work on that. It's quite a thorough study on what the capacity of power is, what the end result is, in what ways and means can you control state power? You certainly know Schwartzenberger and that's where I learned the likes of Kissinger and others which I've read quite a lot.

POM     Thank you.

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.