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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Feb 2000: Davidson, Christo and Van Der Merwe, Johan

Click here for more information on the Interviewee - Davidson

Click here for more information on the Interviewee - Van Der Merwe

POM     General, thank you for seeing me.

JVM     It's a pleasure Professor.

POM     I would like to maybe start, I won't say at the starting point, but with a little history of your own career, when you joined the SAP and your rise through the ranks to be Commissioner.

JVM     Yes, thank you so much. I joined the then police force, it's now a police service, but then the police force on 3rd February 1953. I was originally stationed in Natal and from there transferred to Johannesburg where I worked till the end of 1962. I then became a Warrant Officer and was transferred to Standerton where I worked for two years and after that I became a commissioned officer, in those days a Lieutenant, was transferred to Pretoria and also at the same time transferred to the Security Branch. After two years, during 1966, I was transferred to Ficksburg in the then Orange Free State, it's now only the Free State, where I was in charge of the border post on the RSA/Lesotho border till 1970. During 1970 I was transferred to Bloemfontein in charge of the Security Branches in the OFS. I actually maintained that position till the end of 1979 when I was transferred to Namibia, at that stage South West Africa, where I was in charge of all the Security Branches in South West till the middle of 1983 when I was transferred back to Pretoria and became the second in charge of the Security Branch of the SA Police. On 1st January 1986 I became the Commanding Officer of the Security Branch of the SA Police and I held that post till 1st October 1989 when I became the Deputy Commissioner of the SA Police and on 1st January 1990 I was promoted to General and became the Commissioner of the SA Police. I retired on 31st March 1995. That's my story.

POM     Let me just take you back, I was going to ask you later, so these conversations arise earlier rather than later, how do you make a differentiation between the Security Branch of the SAP and the SAP itself?

JVM     Well the SA Police actually consisted of various branches. It consisted of the Detective Branch, it consisted of the Uniform Branch and the Security Branch. The Security Branch was only a branch of the SA Police as such. The Security Branch consisted of policemen subjected to all the regulations of the SA Police, for all practical purposes in the same situation as any other policeman. We also fall under the command of the Commissioner and we only perform our functions but obviously we were responsible at that stage for the internal security of SA, that was our main task and objective, and that is to deal with security matters as such, whilst the Uniform and Detective Branches were responsible for normal criminal activities.

POM     In Northern Ireland the difference between what you call a political terrorist and a criminal is called 'an ordinary decent criminal', ODCs is the phrase for them.

JVM     Now why is that? Is that more or less to place them in the same category for all practical purposes as a criminal?

POM     Well that's a different story for a different time. We've got a whole hour and a half, but I will explain it to you.

JVM     That's all right, I'm just asking.

POM     What were identified to you as the internal threats to the security of the country and in your own background what led you to believe that these were very serious internal threats?

JVM     Without any doubt during these years, although lately perhaps very difficult to understand for the ordinary person, but at that stage it was the communist threat. It was also regarded as an international threat and the mere fact at this stage that the ANC as such, although they regard themselves in an alliance with the Communist Party, from our point of view they were being controlled by the communists and that was being regarded as the main threat, the communist threat.

POM     Then, at that point?

JVM     Then it was regarded as the main threat. Eventually it changed. I would say during 1983 when the United Democratic Front was established it was obvious then to all the persons that we have to deal with more than a communist threat. At that stage it was obvious that most people in SA, especially the black people, were more or less against the regime and that they were joining hands with the ANC and that the government was up against more than a communist threat to contain.

POM     Now again backtracking, you used to attend meetings of the State Security Council?

JVM     That's correct, yes, but that was only since I became Commissioner, that was after the 1st January 1990.

POM     Let me just backtrack, how serious or in what way was it conveyed to you and to other people in senior positions in the Security Police that the threat was communism, SACP as a front, or ANC as a front for the SACP who were manipulating the ANC, where did this intelligence come from and how was it ingrained in you that you and other people said not only do we accept this but we are protecting our people?

JVM     Once again, I became a member of the Security Branch during 1964. At that stage the Security Branch was actually reorganised, General Hendrik van den Bergh (I think you actually are acquainted with his background) he at that stage took over the Security Branch which was in quite a mess. At that stage there was no real branch as such as the activities of the branch were limited more or less to certain basic matters which they employed to deal with the threat as they have seen it. We then started, and I think General Hendrik van den Bergh actually took the lead in that to make a detailed study of what actually is going on. That was actually the origin of the structure as it actually established itself later in our country and we came to the conclusion, after we've studied all the documents of the SA Communist Party, the ANC and also at that stage with the assistance of the CIA and other instances, that the real threat was the communist threat, the effort by the USSR to dominate the whole world and that SA was actually playing an important role insofar as that was concerned in their agenda.

POM     So you were getting information from CIA reinforcing –

JVM     CIA and other intelligence agencies.

POM     Other international intelligence agencies of the west.

JVM     That's correct, yes. At that stage the National Intelligence Service did not exist, obviously, so we started that and I would say it's more a case of where we informed the government what the real threat was than the government informing us what the threat was.

POM     So it went from you to them.

JVM     From us to them but obviously I would say it was in close relationship because in turn we have to protect the government, it was obvious that the struggle as such, that the onslaught was directed to the government, to overthrow the government, to take over the government with force. So we worked in a very close relationship and I would say we informed the government, the government formed the policy and on that our activities were based.

POM     Just to go back to the total onslaught. Did you in your various moves through your career, that concept was developed and advanced by PW first and then by General Malan –

JVM     I would say more or less in close working relationship, once again, because Mr PW Botha he established the State Security Council, he also established the – let me just get that copy of the book and I can give you the whole story. That's the whole system, you can take this book, that's the whole system which he actually established. Then, when was this established? In any case you will find the dates here when it was established. That changed completely the whole scenario because after the establishment of this system, this system actually to a large extent took over the more or less security matters and although we as the Security Branch were responsible at that stage for the execution of all the Acts which dealt with security matters, the national security plan as such was developed by this system and the threat was evaluated by this system. We also established a committee to evaluate all security information and to supply the government with information. We did not report directly to the government. All our information was actually being evaluated and after that interpreted by that committee and then forwarded to the government.

POM     So the information that you would develop would be sent to the Secretariat.

JVM     The Secretariat of the State Security Council, yes, one of the branches, the Evaluation Committee of that Secretariat, that's correct.

POM     You've mentioned, and it interests me, that you used the words 'our country', 'we'; to whom are you referring?

JVM     I'm referring, I think it's a very good point, at that stage we regarded ourselves as part of the government. We were in close liaison with the government as such and I would say the management structure of the police and the Security Branch especially regarded them as a part of the government as such. We were very close to the government and we actually at that stage worked in a very close relationship with the government to protect the government against the total onslaught.

POM     When you say 'our country', whose country did you think 'our country' belonged to?

JVM     All the people of SA.

POM     So you felt that you were protecting blacks against the total onslaught as much as you were –

JVM     As much as the whites and the other persons. Obviously we depended to a large extent on our black members. There was no way that we could have fought this war without the assistance and without the skills and without the support of our black members. They played a very important role in our effort to contain the total onslaught.

POM     This is one of the questions I like to put to people like yourself: could the system of grand apartheid, or whatever you want to call it, which really PW collapsed in 1986 when he said all people who are in SA are South African citizens, could it have existed and continued if black people did not support it?

JVM     If black people did not support?

POM     Did not support the security forces, did not support in sufficient numbers?

JVM     No, if you mean whether we could have gone on indefinitely in the way we have done so in the time of Mr PW Botha, no, no, it was impossible. We told the government time and again that it's impossible to contain the situation, that they will have to make some changes. There was no way from a military point of view that uMkhonto weSizwe would ever be in a position to overthrow this government by force but the masses is another matter. There was no way that we could contain the masses. It was obvious that from the establishment of the UDF the masses played a more important role. It was actually eventually the attitude of the masses, the role of the masses and the mere fact that it was impossible to detain all the activists and other leaders of resistance groups to make sure that violence did not erupt all over the country. And so at a certain stage we did take more than 40,000 persons and we told the government it's impossible, we can't go on like that, they must make some changes. That was obvious, it was impossible.

POM     Niel Barnard makes the same point over and over again in my conversations with him. Did you and the then National Intelligence Agency work closely together or was it a competitive relationship? In other words did you have your own intelligence gathering?

JVM     I would say about fifty of the one and fifty of the other. We worked together but there was a competitive relationship at the same time. I think the problem was that the Security Branch was responsible for the execution and also the application of the law whilst on the other hand NI was only responsible for the gathering of information, interpretation of information, so they were not actually really close to the ground although they thought so. In many of the instances it was our interpretation that they came to wrong conclusions because they were not close to the ground, especially during the state of emergency when we had to arrest persons. They came forward with nominal rolls of persons whom they wanted to be arrested and detained and when we asked them for their evidence, because that was one thing which we, as far as possible, tried to rely on that as reliable information, if you detain a person you must be sure, very sure, that he was actively involved because if you did take an innocent person you make an enemy of him. That was senseless and when we asked them for the information they came forward with such flimsy information that we could not use a single name actually put on the table by them. So, yes, in that light they were perhaps in many instances more a nuisance than a help.

POM     There is a book, I don't know if you ever came across it and if you haven't I have a copy and I'll send it on to you, by a man who was the correspondent for the New York Times here for many years, his name was Joseph Lilyveld. He recounts going to a General in Pretoria and the General saying, "Oh infiltrating the ANC is so easy, we've got so many people in the ANC that it's laughable. Before they breathe in the morning we know what they're going to have for breakfast." About a year later he was in Lusaka and he met Oliver Tambo and Tambo said, "Oh my God is he correct! We're infiltrated all over the place, no matter what screening places we use we're infiltrated, and do you know what? Some of our best members are informers and our most efficient members are informers." Did you run an informant system?

JVM     Yes we did.

POM     Outside the country as well as inside?

JVM     Outside as well as inside. Outside the country, there are various cases where we had informers in the highest rank of the ANC. I think even at this stage through the TRC they were actually trying desperately to get the names of these informers and I think they will be astonished if we should disclose the names of some of the comrades who were informers, in the highest ranks. But nonetheless it is also true that in many cases we recruited a person, sent him overseas into the ranks of the ANC and then he turned against us. Yes that did happen quite often. But then on the other hand it also happened that when he returned he came back to us.

POM     Turning and turning.

JVM     Turning and turning yes. That is so in our intelligence system, that is so in all the intelligence services all over the world.

POM     Now the government knows who these people are and some of them are in very senior positions?

JVM     I don't know if they know. That is unlikely but some of them at this stage do hold senior positions, yes, most senior positions in the ANC ranks.

POM     Why can't the government get access to that information?

JVM     Because we destroyed all the records and obviously, that's one thing I think is also right over the world, it's the one thing that you always undertake even more or less equal to oath that you will never disclose the identity of your informer. That's one thing which we refused constantly and there were many pressures on us. I can also say that persons in our own ranks tried to pressurise us to disclose the names of our informers and we said no, you cannot do that, you can never in your whole life do that because if you do that you will actually from all moral points of view be guilty of the lowest deed that one actually can perform.

POM     When the National Security Management System was in place and the State Security Council and you would have been there not as a cabinet minister but in an official capacity, many of the people that I've talked to and documents that I've come across have emphasised again and again that the State Security Council became a supra-cabinet, that this was where all the real decisions of government were made. It was presided over by PW Botha.

JVM     Insofar as security matters are concerned, yes that is quite correct.

POM     Security was then defined in such a broad way that –

JVM     It was defined in such a broad way that I would say it would entail almost the whole spectrum, all the important factors of the whole spectrum. Yes, I would agree to that.

POM     How did your relationship change when FW became State President?

JVM     I would say completely. Mr de Klerk, FW de Klerk he was never a confidante of Mr PW Botha and he was also never involved in the struggle. I would say he was on the sidelines for one or other reason, I don't know whether it's a case that Mr PW Botha did not trust him or whether he did not like him, or whatever the case might be, but they were never close and for that reason he was never taken into the confidence of Mr Botha. He was also never involved in the planning, etc., although at one stage he was a member of the State Security Council but I think it was only by occasion.

POM     They would bring in ministers.

JVM     Only by occasion, he was not a permanent member of the Security Council and for that reason Mr de Klerk, in turn, did not trust the Management System so when he actually took over as State President that's the one thing which he immediately changed and that's the structure of the whole system. Secondly, his approach was completely different. He immediately shifted, I would say, quite a lot of the responsibilities of the Management System to the cabinet and then obviously on 2nd February after his statement in parliament –

POM     Ten years exactly to the day.

JVM     Quite correct, quite correct. Then obviously it changed the whole direction of the country, also insofar as the whole security approach and all the other matters were concerned.

POM     Now he gave a speech, I've gone through his autobiography in detail, but he recounts one speech that he gave in, I think, January 1990, when he went before the senior police and said they must get out of politics and that he could feel, he said, the unease among many of the Command. When people talk about, for example, the third force, were there people in the SAP who said this man really doesn't know what he's talking about, we still face a serious internal threat, and didn't salute and say, yes sir!

JVM     I would say that's the one trademark of our police force and now police service and that is they follow command. Once they are being instructed to toe the line and to do it in a certain way they subject themselves to that command. I have no doubt in my mind that is exactly what they have done and the stories about the third force, if one actually clinically analyses that, it is obvious there was a case where individuals in certain circumstances regarded the particular persons as a threat and acted accordingly, but there was never, not according to the evidence of the Goldstone Commission, not according to the evidence placed before the TRC, any real third force as such. When they are referring to a third force they are referring to certain incidents in which members of the SA Police were involved but they acted in an individual capacity and I would say it's a very limited number of them. The majority of the Generals of the SA Police subjected themselves to the new direction as indicated by Mr de Klerk.

POM     Again in his biography he refers again and again to occasions when Mr Mandela would come to him and detail an incident and say that, "Our intelligence says police were involved." President de Klerk would say, "Show me the evidence." Did President de Klerk ever call you in and say, for God's sake, I want to find out what's going on and if there are these 'rogue' elements or whatever in the police, with your resources I want you to find out who they are and I want them out of the police service? Did he ever give an explicit instruction?

JVM     I would say that was his general policy. He did not exactly call me in to tell me that but everybody knows that that was his policy. That's the reason why he appointed the Goldstone Commission. Excuse me a moment, it's one of my old colleagues. (Christo Davidson came in at this point.)

POM     Do you mind if I turn my tape recorder on? The General knows all my rules, that nothing is –

JVM     I can vouch for his bona fides.

POM     This is Mr Davidson.

CD     I'm a Scotsman. I'm an Afrikaans Scotsman.

POM     I'm an Irishman so we've a lot in common.

CD     We don't like the English.

POM     That's right. That's putting it mildly.

CD     But as I say I'm Afrikaans.

POM     Without going into that now, what I would like to do would be to talk to you about the whole investigation of Boipatong and how it emerged: -

     (i)     all the allegations made against the SAP at the time,

     (ii)     how that became almost accepted conventional wisdom that the police were involved,

     (iii)     the Goldstone Commission found nothing,

     (iv)     Waddington was brought in, as I recall, and found no evidence of any complicity at all which was rejected by the ANC at the time as – well the propaganda was going too good,

     (v)     The TRC found that there was police collusion but as I went through their documentation and then went back to Anthea Jeffrey's book on the Truth Commission and checked out her stories, her sources including Rian Malan and Denis Beckett and the stories they had written, they said the TRC had relied upon secondary documents, almost produced them in toto and did no real investigation into what happened at all and the fact is that if one looks deeply into it, which Rian Malan did and he couldn't be called your typical conservative Afrikaner after he wrote his book My Traitor's Heart, is that the conclusion and my conclusion after reading and going back to the commissioners and asking them how did they conduct the enquiry, was that they were prepared to admit that they were relying (a) on second-hand information, (b) sometimes that information was actually just plagiarised from one report to another with no supporting evidence, and (c) in the broader sense that the commissioners really had very little say into what went into the final report. It was written by professional researchers who had already reached certain conclusions about the way history should be retold and that they just signed off on it rather than saying I want to go through every page.

     So I would like to talk to you about that sometime if you would be willing to do that.

CD     Sure. You know what was strange to me was that prior to the finding of the commission there was a criminal trial, I testified on two occasions in a criminal trial, and Judge Smit found that there was no evidence whatsoever of any police or defence force involvement in the massacre. Despite that the commission brought out their report totally ignoring the criminal trials and the procedures followed there which I think were very thorough. After their report came out, before the hearing into the Boipatong, the commission hearing was completed because the commission report came out in 1998 –

POM     About 18 months ago.

CD     Yes. Last year in 1999, almost a year after the report came out, an advocate who was acting for the defence force contacted me and asked me whether I was willing to assist them in compiling a submission for the commission, outlining the role of the defence force and the allegation of defence force involvement. So I said by all means I'll do it, but I said to him if you look at defence force involvement, you must look at police involvement although he was not acting for the police. We combined the police involvement and the defence force involvement in the submission and we handed it in at the commission hearing in Vereeniging, actually at Vanderbijlpark. I was there also and the advocate, Mr Carlo de Sola(?) he said, "Well OK, here's the submission of Director Davidson. You can have a look at it, he will be here tomorrow if you want to cross-question him." We included all the facts, we didn't play around with words, it was plain facts. Neither the commission, nor any of the other parties, asked me one single question on it. Nothing. They just accepted it as it is. I don't know what they are going to do with it but they didn't ask me one question. If one looks at it then they must accept it as the truth otherwise if they have any doubts, or grounds for dispute, they would have cross-questioned me. They didn't cross-question me one single word. I didn't even go into the box. Prejudice on their side was in the extreme in this case but we can talk about it. I've got a lot of documents on Boipatong. I've got submissions, a lot of documents.

JVM     Perhaps I can just add, were you present the day at the KwaMadala Hostel, Chris?

CD     I was present.

JVM     You know KwaMadala Hostel, that's the hostel where the inhabitants actually –

POM     120 as I recall.

JVM     120 of them, they were the main culprits in this whole thing. I think they were the only culprits, the KwaMadala, they were the only culprits in this. In any case they were part of the KwaMadala Hostel and you know there were negotiations between our members in Johannesburg and Themba Khoza and the other one, the other Induna involved as well.

CD     The Induna from the hostel.

JVM     From the hostel. They were negotiating in an effort to see whether it's not possible for us to get hold of the accused persons because there's no way that one can go into that hostel. I think the number of inhabitants, the occupants, was more or less about 400 and they were all armed with assegais and shields. They were quite hostile at that stage. So they were negotiating in an effort – but in the meantime after the incident we surrounded the hostel with policemen. We surrounded them and we declared it an effective place in terms of the emergency regulations to give us those powers to keep them in the hostel.

CD     We enclosed them there.

JVM     We enclosed them there with the authority of the minister but then there was no way that we could go in and try to bring out the people without large bloodshed or whatever the case may be. In any case at that stage there was rather a hostile attitude from the Indunas because they said that the police misled them, they first asked them for a certain number of accused and when they gave them they came back and said we wanted more and they are not prepared to give any more. There was quite a confusion and clearly a misunderstanding.

     So I went there and I was accompanied by General Erasmus and Mr Davidson and the others and I discussed the matter with Themba Khoza, I think Ndlovu was also there, Ndlovu was there and the Induna in charge of the hostel. I said there was clearly a misunderstanding but we want these people because we have to conduct the necessary investigations. There is no way that we can leave the matter as it is and it means that we will have to enclose them as long as is necessary for that reason and that is not in the interests of them or us or the community. Why don't they co-operate? So the Induna said, "You'd better come and explain this to my people, tell the people who are here this morning." They've got an arena, a stadium there where they were sitting at that stage, all 400 of them, armed with their assegais and their shields and so on, very hostile. I said, "All right, I will do so." And I go there and I told them the whole story. I told them that we are investigating this matter, there is no way in terms of the law that we can do it otherwise we want the persons who are accused of the massacre and if they co-operate with us the sooner we can get this whole matter over. We had a list of all the names but unfortunately these names did not entail the normal names by which they are known in the hostel. So after I've explained the whole situation to them they were still quite hostile but the Induna said, "Where are the names?" I gave him the names and he looked at the names and he said, "No, there's no way that they can identify the people in terms of those names. You will have to go back to the list which I think the employers kept where the names by which they are known are recorded. They want those names." He said they will co-operate but with the understanding that we end the enclosement now, take away our people and they will bring us these people tomorrow morning. I think about 120. Obviously, you see we were quite in doubt at this stage because if we take away our people it is possible that they may flee and we will never see them again. I know General Erasmus said, "General, we can't do it." I said, "Well there is no other way. I know one thing for a fact and that is those Indunas always kept their word in the past."

CD     Especially the Zulus.

JVM     Especially the Zulus. There is no other way we can do it, if they promise you something they will do it. I said to them, "All right I will do that, I will take away my men with the understanding that you bring us these 120 persons tomorrow morning to the police station. That's an agreement." So I said to my men to withdraw. I went back to my office, I phoned the minister and he almost blew his top. He said, "How the hell could you have done that? I've ordered the enclosement, how can you withdraw your men without my permission."

POM     This is who? The minister?

JVM     Hernus Kriel. I said, "Well there was no other option, either I trust this Induna and I take this chance or otherwise there is bloodshed. It's one or the other." The next morning they brought us all 120 accused to the police station.

CD     I was there that morning with a big truck. I said to the Induna, 'OK', and they brought them.

POM     It must have been a very big truck to fit 120 people.

CD     We did three trips with them. I was there with all the operations at the hostel. I was there the first time we went in and they surrounded us, myself and another chap Niels Langenhoven, he was a Brigadier at that stage. The people surrounded us with their mob sticks and assegais and as General van der Merwe said, they were hostile and we said to them, "Listen, you must just understand one thing", because I can speak a little Zulu but we had an interpreter also. I said, "You must just understand one thing. We are here to do our job and no matter whether you kill us or not there are a lot of our people outside and if it needs it they will come in and we will finish you all here but we will do our job here." And we just stood there and with my bit of knowledge from the Zulus, the moment you do that, you face them and say, "Right, OK, come on", then they stood back and they calmed down. It was a very sticky situation. I've got a lot of documents on Boipatong and I can give you the whole story from the beginning to the end. We apprehended all the main culprits. It was something like, I'm talking under correction, about 60 hours but we apprehended all the male culprits that are now in jail.

POM     Between 17 and 20 were convicted.

CD     At that stage it was almost 200 accused. Yes 200, then we reduced them to about 120 and then down to something like 85 and then to I think 42 were eventually charged and 17 were found guilty in the end. But they were the culprits, finished and klaar, they and they alone and the reason was they were being harassed by the ANC members in Boipatong, they couldn't go into the township to visit their families from the hostel because the KwaMadala Hostel was sort of a refuge camp for IFP members who were being harassed by ANC people in there because they harassed each other across the line. IFP members withdrew to the KwaMadala Hostel, if they wanted to go into Boipatong in the evening, there were sort of guard posts, the ANC people burning tyres and that and if you stop there with a motor car, if you're an IFP man you either get beaten or you get killed or your car gets burnt out. All the IFP members' houses in Boipatong had been burnt down and two days before this incident two IFP houses were burnt in Boipatong and those people just get fed up with the situation and said, right, let's go and sort them out. My opinion is they wanted to go and sort out these people at the guard posts because they were the people who were actually harassing and intimidating the other residents. But it was very cold that night and that Vanderbijlpark area in winter is really cold, so when they went in there they didn't find the people at the guard posts so they went into their houses. They came back and they sorted them out.

     That was the story. And the main thing why the police were accused of involvement is there was total chaos when this happened. People were running around after their houses were attacked. You had a bit of light but not very much light in the township and you had a lot of smoke hanging because you had these high lampposts and the smoke was hanging below the lights, between the lights and the houses so you didn't have the visibility there. The first police vehicle was in the township about ten minutes after the first reports came out. At that stage it was almost the time when the attackers were already back in the hostel, because it was only a short distance. So when these people came to their senses and they saw what was going on, police vehicles were there, the police vehicles attending to the reports and attending to the injured and that, a Casspir and a Nyala, Schlebush and – what was the other chap? My personal opinion because I had another incident that I investigated in Cape Town previously, it was exactly the same, when these people came to their senses they saw the police there. I think that is where the first accusations came of police involvement because the first vehicles they saw in this mayhem and chaos were police vehicles and that is why they said that the police were involved.

     I said on all the accusations, I treated every accusation of police involvement or security force involvement as an investigation on its own and we found it all to be false. So we can talk a lot about Boipatong, there are a lot of stories about it. And I've got a lot of documents. I can give you some of my submissions.

POM     I would appreciate that. To come back to maybe a little bit sensitive subjects, it has struck me in the work that I have been doing that when you look at the number of detainees who mysteriously fell out of a window at John Vorster Square, slipped on soap or otherwise, that (i) there would be an official investigation and probably the most famous one is Steve Biko, and (ii) is that what I have found with the findings of the TRC with all their shortcomings is that white people in general say we knew nothing of what was going on. If we knew that these things were going on of course we would have objected. You can't see ten people over a period of five months fall out of a building, ten floors, and not wonder what's going on. You had Helen Suzman in parliament –

JVM     It was not a very large number actually. The number of people involved I think you can count on your one hand.

CD     You see, sir, Professor, if you take the total number of people that we detained under security legislation over a period of years, really it was thousands that were detained.

JVM     I told the Professor at one stage more than 40,000.

CD     And if you look at the people who  -

JVM     But that was only at one stage at the same time, that was not over the years. Over the years it must be more than 100,000.

CD     It was especially during the mid-eighties, the emergency regulations.

JVM     Yes, well that was 1986 when the first state of emergency actually was declared, June 1985. It started in 1985 and it was ended in June and declared again a few months after that.

CD     At that one period in time it was over 40,000 but if we take, say, from the beginning, if we take the seventies and the eighties and the number of people we detained, as General van der Merwe said, more than 100,000.

JVM     There were cases where I think the suspicions can be regarded as founded, there were such cases. Timol, for instance, he really jumped. There is no doubt about that. Timol. He jumped himself, he was not forced out of the building. There is no doubt about that because Timol actually was in possession of such valuable information there was no way – he jumped. Timol jumped. Some of the other cases and in many of these cases we have appointed judges. I know in one case where we were also accused that the circumstances were very suspicious when they found a person hanging in the cell, we have asked Judge Goldstone to take the Inquest because we were quite aware if we appointed another judge they are not going to believe the outcome. We appointed Judge Goldstone and he, himself, made the finding it was suicide. So in quite a number of these cases it was really suicide although I must concede that there are cases which are doubtful at this stage. Nonetheless, we were aware that in each case where a person committed suicide we have serious problems so we have instructed persons only to interrogate a person in a room where there are bars in front of the window, he must be handcuffed at all times but obviously, as happened here and in many other countries, many other police services, persons did not always comply with instructions. So I would say there are a few cases where we can be rightly accused but in the majority of cases these persons committed suicide. And if one goes back there was an Inquest in each case, they can go and look at the details of the Inquest and they will see there was a thorough Inquest and they will see that the findings were such that they can rely on that.

CD     You know, Professor, something else also that is overlooked in many cases, General van der Merwe mentioned the name of Timol now, especially a man like Timol, he was more an ideological type of person than a sort of physical freedom fighter type of person. A man like that was of more value alive because of the information he can give than dead because if he's dead there's a lot of knowledge in his head that's gone. You can't get it out but if he's alive and he co-operates you can work with him and you can gain a lot from that, from an investigation point of view. So the perception that especially the ideological people, that we went out to get rid of them, was contra-productive to what we were trying to do because we were trying to get a story from them, to get their ideologies, their strategies and things like that and if he's gone he's gone, you sit, you get nowhere.

JVM     In the case of Timol I was furious why a man should – because his mother came and gave evidence that when she actually eventually received the body it was covered in blood and his nails and everything was in a terrible state and so on. And that was after an Inquest, after a post-mortem was held, after he was washed properly, there is no way even if they had tortured him they would never give the body in such a condition to the mother. It was a lot of lies and it was accepted. In any case that's just incidental. The truth is, yes, there were cases and in some of the cases they've applied for amnesty but I think in quite a number of cases it was really suicide and we've taken really every measure because that was quite stupid. To allow a person to die in detention was always a problem and we've tried everything possible to avoid that, to prevent that.

POM     When you talk about an ideological person it is much more important in a sense than just a physical struggle person and you used the words 'because you can get them to co-operate', and many people would say getting them to co-operate is a euphemism by saying that you extract information and that you used torture to do that. Again the TRC documents, an incredible number of cases where –

JVM     Where they applied for amnesty in such cases, I have mentioned that.

POM     - torture was used and in fact one of the defects of the SAPS today is that since it had to be, or is in the process of rebuilding, is that in the 'old days' all you had to do is pick somebody up, detain them, torture them sufficiently, extract a confession, go before a judge and say here is the confession, bang, case over.

JVM     Once again there were such stringent matters. In the first case that was done without exception and Mr Davidson can vouch for that, but in any case you can ask Judge Goldstone himself and he can vouch for that. When we arrest a person in terms of Section 29, that is now the security legislation, the first thing we had to do is to take him to a District Surgeon to examine him. After that he must be visited by a magistrate every 14 days and also by a District Surgeon every 14 days. And then we've also appointed an inspector of detainees who also visited him at any time, any time which is convenient.

CD     But at least once in 14 days.

JVM     So there was no way that we can just torture a person. If there was a scratch on a person that must be explained.

POM     That law was in effect from?

JVM     From? That was quite a number of years.

POM     But during the eighties?

JVM     Yes, yes.

CD     Yes, yes.

JVM     It was already in force in the seventies, not in the eighties. When Section 29 was actually brought into practice, those regulations were also promulgated at the same time.

CD     But that Special Force order –

JVM     Bloemfontein, that's in 1959.

CD     A Special Force order about the dos and don'ts of people being detained under security legislation. I can't remember exactly which date it was but it was a lengthy thing, a lot of things that you hear –

JVM     It was in 1970, early 1970s.

POM     But did these things percolate down the ranks where the guy on the ground - ?

CD     During those days I was a Warrant Officer and a Lieutenant and a Captain and a Major, I was on the ground and I was an investigator there in northern Natal and Zululand, I wasn't near headquarters but I knew those things. Every investigator had one of these instructions, those force orders at his disposal. We were given it at our lectures, there we were, small groups of people at the branch – five, ten, fifteen perhaps. Each investigator had that and we were told, "Listen, you must adhere to this, if you don't do it you're in bloody trouble."

     Talking about torture, there's a perception that you get co-operation from a person from torture. In some cases it works like that but it is very short-lived. If you really want to get co-operation on a long term base from which you can really gain, you must swing that man's mind, you must get a voluntary sort of co-operation from him.

POM     These are the Askaris?

JVM     For instance, yes.

CD     For instance, and some others, because if you can get the sort of change of mind from that man to say, OK, I'll co-operate with you, you must always realise and you must accept it that there must be a motive, he will have a motive. It will either be for his own well-being, getting his bread buttered with jam and all those things, there might be fear from him for reprisals from the other side, that's why he sides with you, he goes into protection with you but he co-operates to that side. If you get voluntary co-operation through talking and proper handling of a person it's much, much better than this short term thing of a bit of torture and he gives you a bit of information which in most of the cases is false information because he only tells you the story to stop the torture.

JVM     You know in one case we abducted a senior member of uMkhonto weSizwe, Glory Sedibe from Swaziland, brought him to the RSA and we actually eventually managed to obtain his co-operation and he became one of our star witnesses in the Republic. We also used him to address some of the visitors through the RSA, to address some of the meetings where we actually were trying more or less to explain the security situation, the concept of the total onslaught and so on. He was an expert in that regard.

CD     Another man we used a lot in Natal was Leonard Nkosi. He was excellent, I think it was General Jac Buchner who changed his mind.

JVM     Leonard Nkosi, he was the one who was killed by the ANC, he is also one who is well known – I suppose the name also came up with you. Leonard Nkosi was the one killed by the ANC, was murdered by the ANC.

CD     Hell, he was good that man and he really gave good co-operation and his change came through negotiations over cup of tea sort of thing and changing his mind over a period of time.

JVM     I have another appointment at half past.

POM     I'll use my last ten minutes, I hope you'll let me come back again.

JVM     Oh you're most welcome. And Mr Davidson.

POM     And I want to talk to you.

JVM     Just something, I don't know whether you've seen the Waddington Report where he criticised us. But in that report he said there was one shining star, Christo Davidson. That's the shining star mentioned by Waddington.

POM     OK, Shining Star. What I want to go back to, I don't know whether you read Archbishop Tutu's book on the TRC. He quotes here an exchange during your hearing:-

     "It was General van der Merwe, head of the police under Mr de Klerk, a member of the State Security Council and a former Commander of the Security Police who applied for amnesty for a range of murders who was more forthcoming. Our report quoted his evidence into our armed forces hearing:  'All the powers given to the security forces were to avoid the ANC/SACP achieving their revolutionary aims and often with the approval of the previous government we had to move outside the boundaries of the law. That inevitably led to the fact that the capabilities of the SAP especially the security forces included illegal acts'."

     They quote you as follows, saying:-

     "If you tell a soldier 'eliminate your enemy', depending on the circumstances he will understand that means killing. It's not the only meaning but it is specifically one meaning. He was pressed on his evidence.

     "Commission: I am saying would you agree that unfortunate use of the language (it's all in Afrikaans) 'destroy', 'eradicate', 'to wipe out', 'eliminate', and so on resulted in deaths? Would you agree with that?

     General van der Merwe: Yes Mr Chairman."

     When you attended meetings of the State Security Council and phrases like 'eliminate', they document these wrong, the State Security Council documents, 'eliminate enemy leaders', 'neutralise', 'destroy terrorists', 'take out', 'wipe out', 'remove', 'cause to disappear', 'make a plan', 'use methods other than detention', 'use unconventional methods', was it ever in your mind unclear as to what you were being told to do? You made a speech before you applied for amnesty in which you said, "If you think the police are going to stand there - "

JVM     That was in my evidence before the commission which actually dealt with the security forces in Cape Town, it was not an amnesty hearing as such. You may be well aware that they had a security force hearing in Cape Town and I gave evidence before them with regard to the activities of the security forces during the so-called years of the struggle. No, I've told them very clearly that these documents in which these words were used were actually prepared by the Secretariat of the State Security Council and the language, the terms in which they used these words made it very clear that they did not mean that the persons should be killed. The problem actually was that these documents were distributed and it actually was repeated verbally and it was sometimes also quoted by politicians in their speeches where it was not always clear what they actually meant by that. The normal meaning of the word 'eliminate' in security circles would most definitely mean to kill a person, so I've explained that and I think that's why in quite a number of cases the perception actually arose that the aims, the objective of the government was to get rid of these persons, to eliminate them, to destroy them, to kill them. Yes.

POM     So there's no doubt in your mind that they were decisions made in the State Security Council that certain people had to be killed?

JVM     No, no, just the opposite. They never made such a decision in the State Security Council. In the documents placed before the State Security Council it was clearly stated what the intention was, what they actually meant by these words. But after that, you see in those terms what they mean by 'eliminate' that is to take him out of the community, either they meant to arrest him, to detain him or whatever. They did not mean in that document to kill him. But as I've said, the contents of these documents actually were repeated after that by different persons and also interpreted by different persons and they in some cases gave a different meaning to that, but never the State Security Council. As far as the State Security Council is concerned what they actually meant, it was never said so in those documents. In those documents it was made clear that the normal legal means should be applied in terms of the wording.

POM     So when you say, if you tell a solider 'eliminate your enemy' depending on the circumstances he will understand that means killing, it's not the only meaning?

JVM     That is now –

POM     Did I take it out of context?

JVM     That's completely out of context. That does not mean that I've related that to the documents where you in any other circumstances, that is now without taking those documents into consideration, if you've any other circumstances to tell a soldier to eliminate he would normally understand to kill.

POM     So when the Commission says - I am saying, would you agree that that unfortunate use of that language 'eliminate', 'destroy', 'eradicate', to wipe out', and so on resulted in deaths?

JVM     Yes because of misinterpretation. I have said so because in many of the cases the persons, quite a number of persons who applied for amnesty said that at that stage they heard some of the politicians say certain persons should be eliminated but that was taken out of context by them. They also admitted to that, that the person never clearly indicated that 'eliminated' should mean kill, they understood it that way.

POM     So Brigadier Oosthuizen, former head of the Intelligence Section of the police security branch told us there was never any lack of clarity about 'take out' or 'eliminate', it meant the person had to be killed.

JVM     Once again, not in terms of the instructions of the State Security Council but in terms of the wording used in certain documents which were not always clearly explained to the persons when it was actually repeated to them. A certain mis-interpretation as a result of that was created.

POM     So if a document came down and it said that Mr X must be taken out, when that got down to operational level how would that be interpreted?

JVM     You see the problem is the document was not always put at the disposal of the operators. They were merely told what the contents of the document were and in that regard, from the one to the other, to the second and third and fourth person, as Christo will be able to explain.

CD     As I said, I was an operator, I was an investigator on ground level and I can clearly remember the days of Mr John Vorster when he stood on a platform and said, "We'll drive these communists out of the country no matter what it takes." You felt that this agitator you have in your town, he's the sort of –

JVM     Symbol of communism.

CD     Yes, the symbol of communism and you must sort him out. I never got the impression from what we were told that we must kill people. I was never given an instruction that you must go and kill this one or that. But you, as an investigator, it was very easy for you to get into your mind that the government says we must sort these communists out and we must do whatever we can, we must see our own way and we must sort these communists in our community, we must sort him out. But I never received an instruction to kill somebody and I never interpreted any document as to kill somebody. I think it depends also on your different commanders you had. You might have had a Commander who was clear minded and very objective and he would relate what was told from higher up in a very proper manner. You might get another Commander who was a bit more aggressive and he would say, "Right, we must sort these things out on ground level."

JVM     I will get you a set of my documents which I presented to the TRC.

POM     That would be terrific.

JVM     I will get you a copy of that.

POM     It's 11.30, I know you have to rush, you're late.

JVM     Unfortunately I must see my advocate this morning and I must see him at 12 o'clock and I must still drive down to his offices.

POM     Would it be possible to see you again before I go?

JVM     Yes, you can just make your appointment.

POM     Can I get your telephone number?

JVM     I think he's one of the most experienced investigators, Mr Davidson, in the Security Branch. He was involved in the Goldstone Commission and I think with his background he can give you valuable information.

POM     One of the things I've been trying to do in trying to sort out the past, to the degree to which the past can ever be sorted out, is to look at conflicting points of view and conflicting perspectives and see where the connecting points, or the lack of connecting points are and why they arose.

CD     You know we, as operators on the ground, and the MK soldiers were politically on exactly the same level. We had in mind to keep this communist onslaught out of the country no matter what it cost and they on their side had in mind to get rid of this government no matter what it costs and it was a commitment on both sides. That places us on even terms as far as political commitment is concerned.

POM     How can I get in touch with you?

CD     You want my house number or my cell number?

POM     Both. I'm a little deaf. If you were 'friendly persuading' me, you'd have to sit closer to me! I really appreciate your taking the time and I'm sorry for being late. We could talk all day. We were getting into what I think are very important areas that are left untold.

JVM     Let me just get one copy for you, and there's the other one.

POM     OK. Thank you ever so much and Judy will call you and we'll try to arrange something before I go if it suits you.

CD     If you interview me it will mainly on the Boipatong issue?

POM     Yes but it may move, and, again, one of my rules is that people speak on the record or off the record and if they want anything off the record then it is simply off the record.

CD     I've been working officially so I speak on the record.

POM     OK. Thank you ever so much and I'm glad you dropped by.

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.