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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

06 Dec 1999: Meyer, Roelf

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POM     To pick up where we started or ended the last time, you had talked about a one-on-one meeting that you had had with Dr Buthelezi in Durban and as a result of that there was a committee called the Committee on Obstacles set up to resolve the obstacles that would allow the IFP to enter into negotiations with the government and those meetings were held over a period of time or were they a one-off meeting?

RM     No they were held over a long period of time actually.

POM     This was in 1988 wasn't it?

RM     1989. It was over a lengthy period of time. I guess we started, I can't recall now exactly the dates but we started probably in the beginning of the year and the final report was submitted to De Klerk on our side after he took the presidency. In other words De Klerk took the presidency in September of 1989 after the election. Before then PW Botha was of course still there and this whole exercise must have taken place in the last months of PW Botha's governance. But it was over a period of eight to nine months that we met from time to time with various interruptions because of the developments on the internal side, the NP internal side, at that stage because of PW Botha's illness and the uncertainty about how things are moving forward and so forth.

POM     At the end of that he came up with the three conditions, the release of Mandela, return of exiles and the unbanning of the ANC.

RM     Of the liberation movements.

POM     Did that include the SACP or did he leave them out of it?

RM     I can't now recall whether they were specifically included but it was at least the ANC and the PAC.

POM     Were these head to head with Buthelezi himself?

RM     The key participants were - on the Inkatha side, Oscar Dhlomo, who was then Secretary General, Frank Mdlalose, Simon Mapalala who is now professor I think in history at the University of Zululand, and Roly Arenstein who was interestingly still at that stage I think a listed communist. They were the people representing the IFP and on the NP government side it was Stoffel Botha who was the Leader of the NP in that province, myself, Fanie van der Merwe, and Ig Rautenbach. They were the people representing the SA government. The inter-action was not with Buthelezi himself but no doubt whatever appeared in the final report was with his mandate.

POM     Was it your experience from then until the end of the negotiating process in 1996 when the constitution was finally approved, that in dealing with Inkatha negotiators you weren't really dealing with Inkatha negotiators, that they could agree to anything with you and that would go back to Ulundi and then it was really whether Buthelezi gave his seal of approval or not and any agreement you reached could just as easily be turned around even though all IFP supporters involved were very enthusiastic about it, they had no problem with it?

RM     I think it was always the case, they had to go back. Sometimes I had the impression that we had agreements (I'm talking about the years from 1991 onwards through to 1993), sometimes I had the impression we had agreements and then they would go and come back and it was all off again. I sometimes had the impression that there were divisions of opinion in their own ranks particularly from people like Ben Ngubane, earlier on from Frank Mdlalose who seemed to be more flexible in some of the approaches but a very difficult person in the whole process was Walter Felgate. He most of the time provided for the obstacles in those negotiations and whenever we seemed to have been almost on agreement he would throw in a spanner and it was the end of the story or he would insist on going back to Buthelezi for further instructions and that kind of thing. I, at that stage, often had the impression that he was acting on behalf of Buthelezi, that he was actually Buthelezi's direct representative. It's amazing to know that he later on then turned ANC. It simply doesn't make sense.

POM     He began, I've interviewed him on a number of occasions, and he began he says as a member of the ANC and he started out his career in the liberation movement or whatever you would call it, with Beyers Naude. He worked for Beyers Naude in some Christian Institute. That was his initial involvement. He's a complicated man.

RM     Very. There were always suspicions also as to who his real principals were, principals in terms of who gave him instructions. In later times of course Mr Ambrosini appeared on the scene and he himself was almost then a replacement of Felgate to provide the obstacles because he insisted on all sorts of theoretical models and very specifically the concept of devolution of power and federalism were very high in his mind. Of course in the first instance he was sent by Professor Blaustein.

POM     And he is?

RM     He was an American, I can't remember exactly now from which institution. He was a professor of political science from some university in the US who frequently came to SA, was presented as a constitutional advisor to many conflict areas in the world and allegedly wrote many constitutions around the globe. He was around for some years on and off in SA. I can recall he also had meetings with SA government people including Kobie Coetsee very specifically. He was a strong proponent of devolution of power and/or the federal model and also of the protection of minority rights. Ambrosini was one of his students or protégés.

POM     When you said there were doubts sometimes as to who Walter Felgate's principals were?

RM     There was often speculation as to whether he was not working for some secret service.

POM     That would be Niel Barnard's outfit?

RM     No, no, no, outside.

POM     Outside the country?

RM     Yes. But I don't think there was ever proof of that and I would say it rather off the record than for the record because I have no information to that extent. It was very much speculated what his real intentions and/or instructions were.

POM     I didn't know until just some weeks ago that you and Niel Barnard went to college together, you've known each other for over –

RM     A very long time.

POM     Two questions: one would be – what catapulted him from being the head of a Political Science Department in the Orange Free State to the head of a newly created National Intelligence Agency?

RM     It was at that stage thought that Kobie Coetsee was the main instigator behind that for two reasons probably. The University of the Free State was in his constituency at that stage and obviously through that he had known Niel Barnard. The second might have been that he was in close contact with PW Botha. He was at that stage I think PW Botha's Deputy Minister of Defence and so he had PW Botha's ear. I think that the general speculation was at that stage that it was Kobie Coetsee who managed to do that.

POM     He said to me that – well you know him far better than I, but that he hadn't spoken to you since 1996, that you differed on many issues. Was this in negotiations?

RM     You mean Kobie Coetsee?

POM     No Niel Barnard.

RM     Well he was obviously the Director General of which I was the department until I left.

POM     He was Director General of the department, yes.

RM     Yes of Constitutional Affairs which he was before the 1994 election and thereafter and I also remained in that position as minister before and after the election so in 1996 when I left cabinet Niel stayed on as director general and apart from the fact that we had a professional relationship as minister and director general and worked very closely in the negotiations, I think I've stated it before that he and Fanie van der Merwe and myself were working like a threesome all the time during all the negotiations, especially during the time of the channel because the channel was constructed on the basis that it was Cyril and myself as the politicians and we had advisors alongside of which Fanie and Mac, of course, remained right through to the end. But Niel was very much part of that exercise and I can recall on many occasions where the three of us were together and discussed and strategised the way forward and Niel was the one that often came up with proposals as to how to break a stalemate situation and so forth. So we worked very, very closely and beyond that we were not close friends but we came along from university as people who knew each other quite well and we visited each other at home and so forth. It often happened that we got together at home after hours and worked together for hours and that kind of thing, either at my place or at his place. But after I left cabinet the professional relationship obviously came to an end because I then became the Secretary General of the NP and through that it was a natural sort of distance developing. Then Valli Moosa asked Niel to leave. I think that is practically what it boiled down to and I have the feeling, and I've never discussed it with him, that for some or other reason Niel holds me responsible for that. I could never see how and whether I'm right I don't know but it seemed to me after that some bad relations developed without me knowing why.

POM     I was talking to Mac Maharaj this morning and among the many things we were discussing was the fall of Mangope and you played a role in that in that the TEC, he says, the entire TEC went to Mmabatho.

RM     The Executive.

POM     To ensure that the decision of De Klerk and Mandela was carried out which was to tell Mangope it was over. He told it in a way, and Pik Botha went with him to see Mangope, where he had a lot of difficulties with Georg Meiring. Meiring had initially gone in to stabilise the situation and restore, so to speak, Mangope into power and that Constand Viljoen was still in the country at the time rather than, if you read Patti Waldmeir or Alistair Sparks you get the impression that as soon as he heard the AWB was screwing things up left, right and centre, he said, "I'm out of here", and got the first plane out. In fact he didn't, he stayed and was in fact in the SA government's High Commissioner's home. The outlines of that in your recollection of Mangope being taken out, so to speak, not the way that might be interpreted, having been told he had to step down, that was not the initial decision of President De Klerk was it or was Meiring, as he intimated to me, operating on the basis that he had been requested by the Chief of Staff of the Bophuthatswana defence forces to come to his help, invoking the treaty between the two countries, and he came to his help in that context and that he didn't need to advise the President? Is that true or not?

RM     It's now a long time so it's difficult to recollect the details but I can basically probably only reflect best the impressions I still have now of those moments. I think what happened was that there was a meeting – no, let me put it this way first. I think Meiring had sympathies towards retaining the situation in Bophuthatswana as it was, the status quo.

     (Break in recording)

POM     Did he (Kobie Coetsee) feel that he had a particular ownership in the whole thing because he was the initial contact with Mandela and in that sense that his views should be taken with a degree of gravity or that he had some insights into Mandela's thinking that other people didn't have? Because from whatever I hear from, not just you but from other people, he was more of an obstacle to negotiations.

RM     Kobie probably wanted the job of chief negotiator himself and I think the fact that he didn't have it made him first to confront on a regular basis Gerrit Viljoen who was my predecessor, on a regular basis about Gerrit's methods in negotiations. I often sat in on meetings where he was really giving Gerrit an unnecessarily hard time and I think all that stress inter alia that Kobie put on him led to Gerrit's health condition for which he had to finally retire, which was very sad in my mind because Gerrit Viljoen was a great guy and I had a wonderful working relationship with him.

POM     I talked to him last week. He had a stroke you know. He had just sold his house and is moving to the southern Cape.

RM     So it's all very sad and I maintain that part of that health condition of his came from the fact that an enormous strain was put on him unnecessarily by Kobie. Kobie tried to do the same to me when I took over, questioning everything, but I was more rude, I was aware of it because I saw what it did and I was simply more rude and ignored it and just wiped it off the table when he interrupted.

POM     He says you had a falling out during the Record of Understanding.

RM     Yes, that was a major fall out that we had. It was because he was not moving on the issue of the release of prisoners and we couldn't make progress with that item which was part of the negotiations of that issue. In the end I said OK then he must meet Cyril himself, directly, which happened and he was furious that I left him open to Cyril and Cyril gave him a tremendously hard time and he was furious about it.

POM     That's why he took it out on –  We were just talking about Kobie, the role he played.

RM     The point is, I think we discussed it last time as well, but Kobie always played his cards so close to his chest that nobody knew what was going on in his mind and what his intentions were about amnesty and how to deal with it. I don't still to today, I don't understand and don't know if he had intentions. All that I know is that after the conclusion of the interim constitution, after it already went to parliament, the question still remained – what about amnesty? Then De Klerk and the cabinet said we must try and find some answer to it and they pushed it back to me and Cyril and it was as a result of that that we asked Mac and Fanie to draft that piece as it appeared in the postscript. Up to that point and at no stage did Kobie deliver any result as to the question of amnesty.

POM     These are just some quick questions that can be answered rather quickly. What strategic advantage was there in it for the ANC to prolong the process? Who gained or who lost by having the process dragged out closer and closer to the 1995 deadline when new elections would have been called?

RM     1995 deadline?

POM     Yes because you would have had to have – if you had not reached a constitutional settlement by 1994 then under the old constitution elections had to be held in 1995, so you couldn't have another whites' only election, the whole country would have gone.

RM     Well I am sure if necessary the constitution could have been amended at that point. It was possible. It was done in the eighties so it could have been done again.

POM     So who gained from lengthening the process?

RM     My reading was that the ANC was trying to lengthen the process to mobilise their support.

POM     That is they hadn't done their organisational work on the ground?

RM     I think they needed some time after the exiles came back and so forth to get the process going to get the organisation properly in place and all that. I think they were looking for some time. That's one of the reasons, I'm not saying that was the only or the main reason, but it was definitely one of the reasons for the collapse of CODESA 2 as well, that they needed more time and you will recall that they then started with the process of mass mobilisation which was inter alia a way of gathering support, mobilising support. I think one of their calculations at that stage was that they had to do it vis-à-vis the IFP, Inkatha, that they needed more time to actually reduce Buthelezi's support and in a way Buthelezi played into their hands thereafter by not further participating in the negotiations. I think Buthelezi would have been better off if he did participate in the negotiations.

POM     When did Buthelezi quit, or the IFP quit?

RM     After the Record of Understanding practically they never came back.

POM     So they really weren't part of the Multi-Party Negotiations even though they were – ?

RM     Well after the Record of Understanding there were long rounds of talks to try and get them back and then they allied themselves also with the wrong people.

POM     COSAG.

RM     Yes, which I think reduced their position further and then after the Multi-Party Talks started in April of 1993 they participated for a while up to 1st July and then they withdrew completely and for ever and they never came back to the negotiations.

POM     They withdrew in July over a specific issue? I could find that out.

RM     There was a specific reason. I can't now recall exactly what it was but their biggest obstacle right from that point, actually from 3rd June 1993 their biggest obstacle was the issue of the election date that was fixed, they wanted that to be open.

POM     They wanted that to be later or unspecified?

RM     Unspecified. When we took the decision formally in the Negotiating Council on 3rd June that the election date will be 27th April the next year they started to object against that. You remember that that was the evening we left for Massachusetts.

POM     So our small footnote in history is Cyril said you two couldn't go unless there had been agreement on the date so we set the date unknowingly.

RM     But I also mentioned I think last time to you that one significant contribution that came from the SA government, that was in November of 1992, we outlined already a timescale for different steps and processes to follow and in that timescale it was unilaterally announced by the SA government, in the timescale that was drafted by Fanie van der Merwe we already stated that the election should take place not later than the end of April 1994, so we actually selected that date long before it was formalised.

POM     Who did De Klerk consult? Did he have any kitchen cabinet, any close friends that he would turn to whether at universities or whose judgement he would rely on, weren't in government but he could talk to? Or was he a loner, in the sense of the word, in his cabinet?

RM     I think he was a loner. On many occasions I heard him saying that he has no kitchen cabinet, that he was almost boasting about it, that he had no close friends, that he had no kitchen cabinet and he had no cliques, he was not part of a clique. He boasted about that so I think it's probably true.

POM     When you say he had no friends, do you mean personal friends or political friends?

RM     No he certainly had personal friends that certainly also influenced him.

POM     Did he have friends that he turned to? When you had, say you had come to him of an evening after a day of negotiations and sat down with him and would give him a report, can he really discuss things with you in a broad – did he reveal anything about himself or would he just listen to what you had to say, ask some questions?

RM     I would say it was something in between. We were never friends. I had a very close relationship with him, working relationship with him, and I would like to say that as a negotiator I couldn't have expected a better principal because I always had the opportunity to go to him directly and he would never have taken a decision behind my back. That I must give him real credit for. As a negotiator I never felt let down by him. He might have sometimes, and it was rare, not agreed with me or took a decision different to what I was proposing but he was never acting in bad faith as far as that is concerned. That was great. He was always consulting me also if other people would have come to him with different ideas and it was about negotiating matters he would have first consulted me. I could not have hoped for a better principal in that regard. But we were never friends, at no stage, and I to some extent always experienced him as a little bit stand-offish at the personal level, but it was not as if he was aloof and one-sided. I've heard descriptions of other people in similar positions and he was definitely not like that, that is mainly the type of people that would be so aloof that others can never get close to them or speak to them or associate with them. I could have a drink with him, I could have a joke with him but I never had the feeling that he was opening his personal mind really to me. I was never that close. I think he had some other friends to whom he related in that way but certainly not with me. To put it in a different way, I've never played golf and I think he had his golf friends and although I was sometimes going to the bush for a hunting trip or two, I was never part of his party in that regard. I can never say that I was really a close friend of his.

POM     Did he have close cabinet friends?

RM     Yes there were a few that he would have shared in a way that I just described, playing golf together and things like that.

POM     Just almost finally, in Mandela's autobiography there is this account of Mandela saying – sorry it's in Patti Waldmeir's book – at the Record of Understanding when on the issue of McBride and the release of prisoners where you had the negotiations going on about this and according to her version, I think given to her by Mac because he's a person who is quoted, Mandela says something like, "I've had it with this chap", and picks up the phone and rings De Klerk and says, "I want McBride and two others released within 24 hours or I'm going to walk out of here and say there's been no agreement on anything, the summit broke down." And he was being kicked under the table by people like Mac saying," 'Madiba, you're going too far." Mandela's reply was, "I've got to show this chap and put him in his place." 

     De Klerk says in his biography that he resisted letting McBride go, that he didn't want to let him go and that he was persuaded by cabinet to let him go, that it was better to let him go and keep the process on track than to have it become another major sticking point. Is that how you recall it?

RM     You know I can't remember the detail in that sense but what was of course at stake was that part of the Record of Understanding because the Record of Understanding gave rise to that second Indemnity Act and there were long debates on that. It is true that I got the impression that De Klerk was really struggling with that issue and maybe he would have preferred another way. I can't say it was in the context of McBride specifically.

POM     He let McBride go within 24 hours, he released him.

RM     Yes but it was as a result of that agreement, of the Record of Understanding. It was not a specific decision on McBride, it was as a result of the principle contained in the Record of Understanding.

POM     But then Mandela said, "I want McBride and these two out in 24 hours and if you don't do that then I'm walking out of here and saying this process has broken down."

RM     I can't comment on that because I don't know. All I can say is that the principle involving the release of McBride was included in that part of the Record of Understanding and De Klerk had problems, he was struggling in his own mind with that portion of it.

POM     With the Further Indemnity Act?

RM     Or of that portion of the Record of Understanding which implied the Further Indemnity Act, that's true. It would be fair to admit that.

POM     So ten years on, living in a better SA? Is the SA that you negotiated for living up to your expectations?

RM     Again in Guatemala the other day that question was asked of me and I said if I look back many things went much easier than what I expected  over the past ten years. Many of the fears that I might have considered ten years ago became irrelevant.

POM     Like?

RM     Well a total takeover which would have reduced the position of any minority in the country to literally nothing in the sense of making circumstances totally unliveable in SA. So ten years later I think I can say I feel quite comfortable in my own country, I feel a free person there, I don't share the view that the Afrikaner is so-called under the same threat as 100 years ago. I think it's absolute nonsense because we're all part of a free country and what we need to do now is to ensure that all our constitutional rights as individuals that are being provided for in our wonderful constitution be lived up to and that one utilises the opportunities that are there.

POM     Just my final observation on the constitution. In a way SA is proud that it negotiated almost a perfect constitution and now it's trying to legislate a perfect constitution into perfect law which will make perfect human beings, i.e. all kinds of behaviour are being legislated. Most places have smoking and non-smoking areas, here that's not sufficient, you've got to have a barrier set up, it's got to be this length, that length. You've got the Equality Bills, Race and Equality Bill which by my looking at the drafts of it is going to be a horror in terms of the usage of speech and what you can say and what you can't say. It has, maybe unintentional, Orwellian implications. They may not be intended but it's like in order that people will not hate each other we legislate that people don't hate each other; in order that people don't express their hatred through the use of language we will make certain words against the law.

RM     I think it's a question of trying to avoid the same bad experiences that we had in the past and in the process the pendulum is swinging too far to one side. I think there will be a natural balance because many of these things that you are referring to are not going to be possible to be implemented and that will bring the balance.

     But two concerns that I do want to put on the record: the one is that, I'm sad to say it, the new government has learnt very fast the same bad habits as the previous one exercised in terms of utilising its power and getting to a situation where it can very easily –

POM     This is part of its Redeployment Committee and placing people in –

RM     It's not only that, it's also signs of authoritarianism that are there and one thing that I would wish for in that regard is that we would sooner rather than later really reach the point of a restructuring of the party political scene to the extent that we have a true multi-party democracy. At the moment it's not there because together with the constitutional change didn't come the political change which means that the political parties are still shaped very much along the old moulds of the old constitutional dispensation instead of according to the provisions of the new constitution and that of course you can't legislate. If we could have legislated for that we should have disbanded all parties on 27th April 1994 and come together as new parties but that is ridiculous to think. So this is something that put a bit of concern, no not a bit of concern, it puts general concern that if we go too long on the road now that we are now in we might soon see a party in power with too much power for too long.

POM     Much like the NP?

RM     Exactly. That is the one concern. The other concern is that I don't think we have the ability to cope with the administrative and governing demands of the country, especially at the provincial and the local level and that could cause serious problems.

POM     In provinces – well local governments are falling apart.

RM     Exactly and I don't think there is enough serious attention being given to this by the government.

POM     So you have this emphasis on macro-economic policy is working and budget deficits are being met and all that but then if you look below and see what's happening at provincial and local level you see financial chaos and bankruptcies. I think the Northern Province a couple of weeks ago declared itself economically non-viable, kind of threw in the towel. The Eastern Cape is in turmoil. Mpumalanga is a mess.

RM     Local governments are falling. So it's not all that rosy.

POM     Mbeki?

RM     My first concern deals inter alia with the uncertainty about his own future role.

POM     Uncertainty about his own future?

RM     Role. If he is going to follow the route of more centralising of power, more authoritarianism then it enhances that concern.

POM     But beyond that, let's end on an optimistic note just for now – of course I'm going to see you again anyway, so I won't end it all.

     Now to Ireland if you've five minutes.

     (Break in recording)

RM     My memory is definitely different and I think it's been confirmed by what I just looked at in the text. That was done immediately after completion of the negotiations in my interviews with Hennie Marais of which I will give you a copy. But the six-pack which was the most crucial thing to agree upon during the final hours of the negotiations on the interim constitution, that was 17th November 1993, amnesty was not even part of that at that point. And it was intentionally done so because the moment amnesty was to be part of the negotiations at that moment we would not have had an interim constitution at that point.

POM     I want to revisit a couple of questions that in fact I did screw up the last time. That was a question I had asked you regarding Niel Barnard's assessment of De Klerk, that he was a brilliant tactician but not a very good strategist and my question I think was in the context of when De Klerk released Mandela on 9th February 1990 did he have a game plan worked out? Did he know that A will lead to B will lead to C will lead to D will lead to E will lead to F and when we get there this will be what we aspire to get in negotiations, this will be our bottom line below which we simply won't go? Or was it all more done on an ad hoc basis?

RM     I think that criticism of Niel Barnard would be fair. I think it's true to say that De Klerk was more of a tactician than a strategist. There's a big difference between the two, obviously and I don't think he had a total game plan at that stage and it often happened thereafter in later stages that we discussed this and the need for a clearer strategy and so forth. On the other hand I think it would be unfair to say that he had to take the sole responsibility for that. After all De Klerk worked in conjunction with his colleagues, he was not like PW Botha who was all by himself and the few that he surrounded himself with. De Klerk was a cabinet decision maker – he followed the cabinet decision making process, he would take all matters to cabinet and get their inputs and so on. So I don't think one can really blame him alone if that was the case.

     The other point which I think is very important is that this process was of such a nature that at the start it was not possible to outline exactly the outcome and where step by step one would go to. But it was probably good that it wasn't that way because if the government of SA would at the time when they took the decision, which was now exactly ten years ago, it was the beginning of December 1989 that the decision was taken to release Mandela and to unban the ANC, when that decision was taken if the government had to at that point of time outline, for instance, a constitutional framework for SA and stick to that, stuck to that, then we would have had no solution because the views at that stage were so far away from what the final outcome was that it would have been rather dangerous, we would never have had a settlement in SA. The fact that they were prepared to move away, like we moved away from our initial position, was I think clear enough indication that it was worthwhile to negotiate the settlement on a flexible basis.

POM     But they would argue that they never moved away from one key thing stated in the Harare Declaration and the sole goal of their negotiations was majority rule and a constitution drawn up by an elected Constituent Assembly but majority rule and that whatever concessions they made were always within the context of remember, what we're looking for is majority rule. Does a concession help us attain that or does it impede it? If it doesn't impede us go ahead and make it. So they had a very clear idea of where their goal posts were, where they wanted to place the ball, whereas on the government side it was rotating presidency one day, it was group rights the next day, it was muddling from one to the other without a very clear idea of where exactly it wanted to end up.

RM     Yes but I think one has to see that in a context, in a context of trying to hide from the inevitable. The inevitable was majority rule, the inevitable was a constitution that would be acceptable to the majority and all the exercises that the SA government came up with were to try and avoid or to hide from that reality.

POM     So in a way De Klerk couldn't devise a strategy because if he had said there's an inevitable outcome to this process, majority rule, now how do we devise the best constitution with protections for everybody that will operate under majority rule? If he had said that in cabinet he would have been replaced.

RM     Exactly, he would never have had a referendum mandate.

POM     So he could never articulate the problem, so it was difficult to develop a strategy for a problem that you can't articulate.

RM     Exactly. And that is why I say, credit again for him, that is why I said I think right from the start he knew exactly what he was up to. In terms of what he said to me, I think I mentioned last time, that occasion outside Durban when we were waiting for Buthelezi in December of 1989 when he said we are busy with the liquidation of this firm, of this country, of the status quo, in the context of the SA legal meaning which means that you are winding up your business. So I think at least in his own mind it was inevitable.

POM     You mentioned, and this is part that I lost on the tape, you said that because he wasn't quite clear of where he wanted to go, or perhaps because he had to always go back and consult and bring his cabinet with him, that he often made agreements with Mandela that Mandela thought he later reneged on or that he prevaricated, so that Mandela thought he was being dishonest with him.

RM     I think it was the style. Can I tell it from my own perspective in terms of how I experienced this? One thing I learnt in the negotiating process is that once you say yes for something, or no, whatever the answer is, you should stick to that and if you particularly negotiate a specific answer to a problem you should not come back the next day and think that since you've had a certain concession the previous day now you can go for another one the next day on the same issue. I think part of the problem which led to the collapse of CODESA 2 was the fact that there was this general lack of credibility in the SA negotiating side's positions because of the perceived change and/or real change in positions from time to time. I think De Klerk might have left that impression also with Mandela that once he achieved one concession from Mandela he could also try for another one on the same issue and that was obviously not well received by Mandela. I think that led to some distrust in the mind of Mandela. I think that was the real explanation for it.

     On the other hand I tend to think that that was one of the solid things that developed between Cyril and myself and that is that once you say something is possible or is not possible then it was a reliable answer. Once you get a concession then you know that that is a concession that you can rely on and that it will hold, there will not be later on changes to that and vice versa. I think those are important elements to any negotiating situation. That's why I emphasise this as a key point of our success, the fact that we have developed that credibility especially after the Record of Understanding at the negotiating level. I think there was some lack of that at the leadership level.

POM     After the Record of Understanding, as I recall, there were a couple of bosberaads where guys from the ANC and yourselves got together and swam and drank and ate and discussed things other than politics and got to know each other.

RM     We got to know each other as human beings, yes.

POM     And that hadn't been there before?

RM     Correct.

POM     During the CODESA process you were still really strangers to each other?

RM     Correct.

POM     So in fact George Mitchell refers to that at the end of his review, that when the discussions moved to London, that they used to meet every evening in the US Ambassador's house and that he insisted on them having meals together and that he insisted that the talk had to be other than on negotiations. It had to be about sports, music, whatever.

RM     And he told me that Saturday I was there, that was after the London experience, that Saturday I was there and had breakfast with him, he told me that the previous evening for the first time actually he had Gerry Adams and David Trimble alone, together with one on each side, sitting down for supper and sharing with each other in that way. On the previous occasions it was apparently the group that came together and then for the first time the two individuals had an opportunity to share with each other as individuals. George was remarking on this as if it was a very important move or progress in the process.

POM     Last week, just after his review, Reg Impey who is the Unionist Chief Negotiator came out and said, "We understand Republicans have problems and we appreciate them." Now if a Unionist had said that six months ago he would have been excommunicated from his party.

RM     It comes back to that point, and I'm often making that, is put yourselves in the shoes of the person on the other side.

POM     Just to recall, because you had recalled it in your own language, you were talking about your own metamorphosis of when you entered politics first, that you would have seen yourself as being in the camp of the reformers but not as an initiator of reform. Could you go through that process again of your own development after you entered politics, when you first began to have questionings about the way things were and then move from questioning to understanding the need for reform and moved from reform to understanding the need for a total reconstruction of the whole?

RM     I summarised it the other day in Guatemala because it came up through a question and that was, how did I personally experience this? I said well, I was always a reformist within the NP. I was on the reforming side right from my start in the party, or in parliament in 1979. Before that I didn't partake seriously in political matters but as an attorney I can recall that I started to ask questions as far back as 1977/78 in my capacity as an attorney where I had to do some legal work for the then Independent Development Trust or something like that. The questions that came to my mind at that stage were about the so-called permanency of black people in SA because the laws prevented that and those questions remained in one's mind and after I went into politics I was basically on the reform side. I can say, yes, I was always, right through the eighties, I was on the reform side of things but I was never an activist. But in the end I must also say it became clear to me eventually that that was not enough and if I now look back at it I can emphatically say in spite of my good intentions as a reformist it was not good enough. One had to take an extra leap and that I can describe now can only be achieved through a quantum leap and that is a real paradigm shift.

POM     When did that, for you, happen? When did you make that leap?

RM     I can't say that I decided one morning that I'm now going to take that quantum leap. I think it just happened. I was saying that it didn't just happen overnight or in terms of a specific decision.

POM     By the time you were Deputy Minister for Constitutional Affairs had you arrived at that point? Was it after the release of Mandela?

RM     I think it was during the process of negotiations. I think it was during that process, the circumstances and the whole environment started to change one's mind. Environment meaning the people that you have started to meet, the recognition that those fears that might have existed before are probably not that serious. To put it in Thabo Mbeki's words, the people on the other side didn't have horns. All of those realities that started to dawn on one I think helped the process and I can't now say exactly when it happened or whatever but I know for a fact I can say that I made a paradigm shift in my own mind.

POM     In the earlier days prior to 1989, prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, did you and your colleagues associate the ANC and the SACP as being almost inseparable, interchangeable, in a way that the ANC was a front for the SACP and that what would happen if the ANC took over would be the imposition of a Soviet type government, nationalisation, the end to private property, that indeed the total onslaught of PW Botha was real, that you were threatened externally and internally?

RM     Many concerns existed during that period, especially during the eighties and it was all taken for real. There is a communist threat, that the ANC and the SACP are at least in such cahoots that they are the same thing and that the end result would be that we have to basically fight communism in SA. I think that was a general perception. Of course there was not real information to substantiate the difference because of the lack of information generally available in SA both on the ANC and the SACP because everything was banned. Let me emphasise, I think we were not the only ones in SA's case that didn't see the changes that were starting to take place already in the eighties in Europe. I think many people in Europe itself – I can recall September 1989, I was at a conference in Germany, in Western Germany, and there was no sign at that moment that the Berlin Wall would come down in less than two months from then. At least the Germans themselves didn't believe that was going to be possible. They never spoke about it, there was no talk about it and I incidentally spoke recently with some German friends and they confirmed that, that it happened in the end so quickly that it was unpredictable.

     What I am saying here again in terms of our own experience, we are all products of our environment. In my own testimony to the TRC I tried to reflect on that by saying that all South Africans who were on the side of the NP, the government and many others, even who didn't vote for the NP or the government at that stage, were part of the same mould and therefore if one had to point fingers, you have to point fingers at everybody because it was 'enclaved' thinking, if that is the right word.

POM     Is your submission to the TRC in the report of the TRC do you know?

RM     It should be there. I've never read all the volumes but in the final report there is reference to some of the input that I made.

POM     Would it be possible to get a copy of your actual submission?

RM     You know on these issues I spoke off the cuff, I didn't even submit in writing. I spoke off the cuff because the commission started to ask me these questions and I responded from the heart more than anything else. Tutu responded to it very favourably.

POM     You never made a formal written submission?

RM     Not on this, no. It was recorded there obviously. It was done on 15th October 1997 so it should be available in the records of the TRC and Tutu's feeling was that that contribution helped a lot for getting a better understanding of what went wrong, sort of.

POM     What went wrong between Tutu and De Klerk?

RM     I think Tutu was disappointed about De Klerk's second submission to the TRC, not so much the first one but the second one and it's about the fact that Tutu thought that De Klerk should have climbed off his legalistic platform and just be a human being and tell it as it is. De Klerk was acting like a lawyer all the time, sitting there and explaining things from the legalistic point of view to ensure that there might not be charges and/or civil claims against him. It's like the other day I was sitting and listening in Guatemala on a similar discussion and there were two reflections from Guatemalans. The one was a widow who lost her husband, a Maya woman who lost her husband, the other one was the military General and the one didn't speak to the other at all. The Maya woman was emotional reflecting her sorrow and the answers that she was seeking from the military and the military man was speaking from the regulations and the discipline that he is bound to and nothing else. He didn't climb off that. So it was as if he was not hearing what she was saying.

POM     Do you think that De Klerk wasn't hearing?

RM     What Tutu was expecting?

POM     Even though he has said to me and thousands of others, "I've apologised." Wynand Malan told me, the friend of yours, a very interesting story yesterday of how he had several meetings with De Klerk after he became party leader and on one occasion he said to De Klerk, "FW, you're still thinking apartheid thinking", and De Klerk got very upset and said, "No I've moved away from that." And he said, "No you haven't, you still think in terms of classifications. Once you think of classifications whether it's race, religion, ethnic groups, whatever that's an apartheid structure of thinking." It wasn't until, I think he said 26th May the following year when De Klerk gave his budget speech he moved away from group rights to talking about the individual as being the basis of a future constitutional dispensation that he saw De Klerk's leap. Did you see that change in De Klerk, his slow abandoning of the group concept or did he consciously believe in it up to the end?

RM     I think he made that change but it's hard to say whether he has accepted the full consequences of that because everything he did after 1994 makes me think that he was actually trying to reach back because of the positions that he took after 1994.

POM     This is in the government of national unity?

RM     Yes. It was more of a nature to try and reach back to where we were before 1994. It left with me the impression that he didn't really accept the transformation in his heart and that is now apart from the group rights orientation or whatever. It is simply a question of whether he really made the paradigm shift. My conclusion would be no he didn't. And that I think was Tutu's real disappointment because he was looking for that. It's a very strange thing it's not about what is in words, not what it's about on the technical side, it's about what is in one's soul. I saw this movie the other day, 'Instinct', and I must say when I saw it it gave me some of an insight as to what might have happened in my own mind over the past years. It's a totally unrelated story, it's about this guy who was working with the guerrillas in Rwanda and then he got caught up and was charged with murder of a guy who was actually shooting a guerrilla. Then he seemed to go off his mind and he was taken to a correctional facility in America and then a shrink started to work on him and he started to get him to speak about his experience with the guerrillas and so on. In the end the shrink admitted that it was more helpful to him this discussion than to the actual person.

POM     Is that movie on around here?

RM     I saw it on the plane the other night from Miami so it's a recent movie but I would advise you to go and have a look. It's interesting. But it's about that kind of move in your mindset that you can't explain to people necessarily or you can't even put it in writing. I won't try or dare to put it in writing as far as I am concerned but I can reflect on it because it's an emotional experience because in the end it's about accepting one another as people, as individuals, and not looking at one another as black or white and I think that is key. It's key in our situation and I suggest it's key in other situations. As long as the Ladinos in Guatemala are not going to accept the Mayas as human beings, as brothers and sisters, they're going to have problems. I guess that's the same in Northern Ireland and I think that is what was lacking in De Klerk's whole approach. He might say something different but it's not there and Tutu could detect it, that it's not there.

POM     Now, again this is returning to the whole issue of amnesty. This seems to be an issue that was completely buggered up from the beginning by none less than Kobie Coetsee. From my understanding among people, including Niel Barnard who said he was part of writing the statement, that at the Pretoria Minute the question of amnesty came up and he and Fanie, who as I said is ubiquitous, he's there, he's everywhere, Mbeki and Mac Maharaj or Joe Slovo were sent into a room and they drafted a statement giving what meant in effect blanket amnesty. When Kobie saw it he went berserk, tore it up and said there had to be this process of applying for amnesty, a listing of the offences that you had committed and that you would be given indemnification only for the offences that you had admitted to committing. Then you had the Indemnity Act of 1990, the Further Indemnity Act of 1992, but that the issue was left unresolved and was a stumbling block during the negotiations, during the Record of Understanding and was unresolved there and then ended up in the post-amble to the constitution.

RM     Did that part of the tape get lost?

POM     That's the part of the tape that got lost. Is that an accurate depiction? What was Kobie after?

RM     Look, I was not present in that discussion at the Pretoria Minute, I wasn't present there so I can only reflect on what I heard from those guys, Niel Barnard and Fanie van der Merwe who were present, but I think it's sufficient confirmation that is what happened. I think at that stage Kobie was of the impression if there is a blanket amnesty all the ANC guys would just come back and get away with murder, instead of thinking what are the consequences to his own people and I think that was the shortcoming in his thinking. He didn't realise if he got a blanket amnesty it would also apply to his own forces. Maybe he thought it was not necessary, I don't know.

POM     He says that the Indemnity Act was also open to anybody in the security forces since they could have applied.

RM     But that was obviously not the intention of the Indemnity Act and he very well knew it. The Indemnity Act was there with one purpose and that was to allow the exiles to come back.

POM     You had also mentioned something else that I thought was interesting and that was in 1989 or 1990 amnesty was a big issue for the ANC because they wanted to get their people back into the country but once they got them in –

RM     That's what I'm saying, he was more concerned about those coming back than to think of the long term consequence for his own forces.

POM     But by December of 1993 the shoe was on the other foot.

RM     Exactly.

POM     Then it was the security forces saying - what's happening to us? Are we covered? But he still couldn't move forward because the ANC – was it the ANC? - was he pushing for one?

RM     He was not. I'm sure he wasn't.

POM     What was his - ?

RM     I don't know. Only he can explain that because the issue came up from time to time in the government. Questions were asked on a regular basis in the government by none other than Hernus Kriel on a regular basis and every time the matter was either postponed or sidelined or no answer was given.

POM     What role did Kobie play in the whole process?

RM     As I said earlier on the basis that each minister was responsible for his own line function.

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.