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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

03 Feb 2000: Meiring, Georg

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POM     What I would maybe like to ask you about first is when the TRC issued its report and you and other senior officers and officials in the then SADF read it, did you believe that they had been fair to you?

GM     No, they haven't read many of our reports. We have gone to great trouble in preparing specific submissions towards the TRC and from their report it is quite clear that they haven't read some of our reports. The latest one they haven't even read. That was quite a comprehensive one and we went to a large amount of trouble in trying to get from them exactly what they want to know and we answered that in writing and when the report came out it was quite obvious that either they haven't read it or they haven't taken any notice of what we were saying. So we compiled a document, which I can let you have, in pointing out only some, and we took about fifty, forty-eight odd, blatant examples of factual errors. In other words they say - an officer or a commander so-and-so was there; it wasn't correct because that specific person was at that time either on a staff course or on another posting or whatever and there was enough proof so as to prove that they haven't given enough attention to detail. I don't know how you work it but if I'm a Commander and my Staff Officer brings to me a report of sorts and I go through it and I find a mistake, I go through it much more scrupulously and if I find two I'm starting to get worried, if I find three I hand it back. We have found at least fifty so the report couldn't have been fair enough because there are too many blatant errors in it and some of their findings were based on erroneous facts. I think to be quite fair one should also have read that report of us from our side, from the military side. I can't say how accurate or not accurate it was as far as some of the other people are concerned but from our side there are quite blatant errors in this thing.

POM     When you communicated with them, were you communicating with the commission or the Chief Researcher?

GM     With all of them. What we have done when the TRC was established is that we have established in the military a nodal point to enable them not to go to each and every individual but to put a request to a nodal point. We got the information and sent it through to them. In the beginning it was a bit there was uneasiness because they didn't quite believe that what we sent them was the truth. Eventually it was a very smooth flow of information to and fro. Then on a continuous basis we assisted them in either getting people, getting documents to people who have already left, getting people to make submissions to the TRC if they so request it or subpoena, and that nodal point I think alleviated much of their work military-wise. Then also through that we had quite a large number of talks to the high level officials. I spoke to Dr Boraine quite often person to person and also with our minister present and so on. So there was quite enough flow of information between top level and middle level, middle level being the research group who also contacted us on a continuous basis, contacted the person responsible for the nodal point which we have put there as his sole task. It was a Reserve officer who we called back from the Reserve just to sit there and do exactly that, make himself available to these people.

POM     So when they say in their report that they received minimal co-operation from you, that is incorrect?

GM     That is not correct, that's simply not correct. This I can vouch for, it's simply not correct.

POM     Not just as a military man but as having been Chief of Staff, commanded the SANDF through its transition period, how would you analyse if you had to go through and see fifty or whatever mistakes made, factual mistakes, you having set up a nodal point and they ignoring that, they saying they received very little co-operation from you, what do you see as the motivation for that in particular as it was supposed to bring about reconciliation?

GM     My feelings I think are a bit long winded but can I summarise? Basically when we started on the negotiation process prior to the constitution being written, I'm talking about the CODESA era, there was a large feeling within both sides to ask or to go for general amnesty. Now two of our side, I'm saying our side being part of the governmental institution at that time, part of the institution side negotiators and/or officials, were at loggerheads with one another, both were ministers, wanting to use the aspect of general amnesty to their own specific agendas. Roelf Meyer wanted to get on with the negotiations as soon as possible. Kobie Coetsee, he was the Minister of Justice as well as Minister of Defence, with his hat of Minister of Justice didn't want to continue with the negotiations, he wanted to use us as a lever. To do what? I don't know. But between the two of them, because they were at loggerheads with one another nothing happened. De Klerk didn't enforce it to happen. In other words the door of opportunity eventually closed because there was a very strong movement on the ANC side to go for general amnesty and a very strong movement from the other side to go for general amnesty but because of the delay and the bickering between people to come to terms with and actually put it on the table, this door of opportunity closed and eventually the TRC was then instituted. Would the general amnesty have come about, like it did in Namibia, I think in all fairness it would have meant more for reconciliation than anything else because you would have taken away the actual strife between the various sides.

     What then happened is that it was supposed to be a reconciliation commission where people spoke about so-called truth, what happened actually, to find out what happened, to clear their hearts, to make submissions and say that they are sorry, etc., etc. Now the TRC, that's the next point, was not appointed with anyone from the so-called military environment within it. They did not understand military. So there was no way of getting through to them. They had an idea that everybody in the so-called security forces, which was a misnomer from the very beginning, but the security forces were basically in the minds of everybody made up by the military and the police and the intelligence groupings. The security forces as a name they wanted to cover everything with that name and everybody in the security forces was at fault. That was the thoughts they had in their minds and they wanted to go along to prove that this was actually so.

     Now it's a long story between the military and the police. We've been working together and not working together since 1965, as far as I'm concerned, when I came into it. There is always a bickering between the military and the police because the police weren't trained like military, military weren't trained like policemen. The policemen want to get a bloke before a court of law and find him guilty. The military wants to prevent the thing happening and if it's happening to stop it as soon as possible. It's a complete different attitude between the two sides and a lot of cultural problems existed between the police and the SADF at that time.

POM     What would you pinpoint as the key cultural differences?

GM     Cultural differences in terms of training, know-how, the way you do things. The military culture and the police culture I call it. So what is unfortunately true, there were a lot of people in the police that did things in a wrong way. This is correct, this is true. They came forward and they made their representations and things like that, but very few people in the military did similar things. A few perhaps did and they came forward individually but as a group the military never went into atrocities. All our orders, our way of thinking, our philosophy, our strategy, our tactics were not to confront people in this sort of way but to wage war with as least as possible loss of life and loss of property and loss of everything. We were trained like that from the very beginning.

     So the TRC thought in their own minds that we were guilty and they were trying to find why can't they find the proof of what they thought we were doing. And the more they couldn't find, the more they thought we've been covering up very, very well. Nzimande told us that, one of the researchers, he actually told us that it must be there, you are just hiding it very, very well. That is one of the reasons why I say they didn't get all the information from us because information they were looking for didn't exist. The actual information was where factual information existed and we gave it to them but they didn't believe it. So it is a matter of presupposing that the military did things in a similar vein as the police and they didn't.

     If I've got to look at the TRC and why it went wrong is that there were not enough military people there and they started off on the wrong foot. This is my submission to what I think from our side, from my side, looking into them which was wrong. Perhaps I'm also only subjective but I don't think so because we really went out of our way to try and assist the truth but the truth as it was, not the truth as it was presupposed to be.

POM     I've learnt about so many different kinds of truths in the last several months, experiential truth, forgiving truth, nobody ever says factual truth.

GM     Honestly, we have written two major submissions where we had people sitting around, very clever Staff Officers who we also called out from the Reserve, who were serving at the time when these things happened, and they sat down with all our facts and figures and whatever and they wrote reports for the TRC, two thick ones about that thick, which was handed in to them. I think we can give it to you, it is available. I was this morning at his place, I just didn't think about bringing it along but General Dirk Marais has got it, I have his number and you can get your secretary to phone him to get both the submissions or all the submissions made to the TRC, the official ones, as well as our submission on the report of the TRC. In other words where we prove that some of the things that they say were not completely correct.

POM     To switch a little: that the SA Army was a conscript army, it was compulsory that everyone over 18 or whatever would join for whatever period, two years?

GM     It was a year and eighteen months, then two years, yes.

POM     In order to motivate them what was the theory of motivation? You are joining the army, you're in part of the defence forces of the country for what reason?

GM     You see at the time, again one must depict oneself in the time sphere of that specific environment, our country believed, and if you speak to many people from that era they will tell you that they still today believe that that was true at that time, that the country as a whole was faced with an onslaught from communist based theory and philosophy to get the southern Africa, or the tip of Africa with its mineral wealth under the arm of the communist influence, like they could do or like similarly they had wanted to do from time to time with the oil fields and things like that. So that between Russia and southern Africa they could control mineral wealth which is basically what the philosophy and theory at that point in time was. In fact Khrushchev at the time also said something like this, to control the two houses of wealth, the house of mineral wealth and the house of oil wealth was part of their philosophy. In order to do this we believed at the time that the communists were using insurgents, they were using so-called nationalist movements at the time to further their aims. In fact they were well supported by Russia, well supported by communist China, so the proof was there. If you went through all what happened at the time they had weaponry from Soviet sources, from eastern bloc sources. They were in Angola, there were forces from other countries that actually acted on behalf of Russia. The Cubans were there, East Germans there, Czechoslovakians there, there were in fact Russians. I fought a Russian General at one stage in Angola. We thought at the time, we well believed that our country was being threatened by the eastern bloc, by Soviet expansionism or Russian expansionism as it was called at that stage. It wasn't difficult to motivate most of the people who came in to serve as national servicemen because you told them what you believed to be true at the time, that you are here to try and defend your country from foreign oppression, from foreign intervention, from foreign incursions, from whatever source there was at the time. Then it was very easy, the easiest thing to do is not to use that, is to use the point that I'm the best, I'm part of the best military force in Africa and I like to be on the winning side. If you play rugby you would not continue on the threats, you would continue on your strong points, that sort of thing. So if you are part of the best team, the team spirit motivated people and this was basically how it was done.

POM     Put this in the framework of apartheid.

GM     Apartheid never came into this.

POM     Never came into it?

GM     Never, never, because most of the time I was in a senior position we had more than two thirds of our fighting force were black soldiers, all the time.

POM     So in a way the SADF couldn't have existed without their enthusiastic support.

GM     Of course not.

POM     And loyalty.

GM     Of the black people of SA. In Namibia most of my force were black soldiers, black and coloured soldiers and they were excellent, they were very good. 101 Battalion that was in fact recruited from Ovamboland, the area which was subjected to the onslaught from SWAPO at the time, 101 Battalion I don't think there was ever a battalion in the world with a better track record in war than they were.

POM     That's the 32nd?

GM     No, no, not 32 Battalion, everybody thinks 32 Battalion was the best, but 101 Battalion was better, it had a better track record and they came indigenously out of Namibia, out of Ovamboland. 32 Battalion were ex-Portuguese soldiers from the northern part of Angola, it's black Portuguese people. They are also good and they are also good fighters but both of these were permanent force, they were professional soldiers and had been fighting a lot of battles so they must have got good after a while, and they were excellent. I did a lot of fighting with a lot of people so I can tell you, everybody preached red and there's no problem with that. There was never in the military a question of apartheid or anything and that was no motivation whatsoever. We always said we're fighting for the country, we don't fight for the governmental philosophy. We will honour the government of the day and that's what I told President Mandela before he was President, when he asked me whether I would continue to be the Officer Commanding, Chief of the SANDF. I said to him I've always been loyal to the government of the day provided the government of the day is a democratically elected government and I fight for the country, the well-being of the country. That was the theory and the motivation by which the soldiers lived.

POM     So you just in that statement didn't see a contradiction between saying we are loyal to the government of the day provided it is democratically elected, when the vast majority of the people of the country were denied the franchise?

GM     It never came into being. The government had the policy of apartheid but they stopped working according to that except for the franchise as such for a long time. It was a long time, basically in the military we started much more previous than that. The government of the day was what we supposed to be the elected and/or the de facto and de jure government and once you become accustomed to that you're serving that government for the best of your country, you are actually doing it. So this is what we lived by. I don't think you would find a lot of political thinking, party political thinking within the military at that time. Global political thinking perhaps yes but not party political thinking.

POM     Was there apartheid within the military in the sense of representation at senior levels?

GM     No. Look, we started to get people, it was a decision from the government, after making submissions to the government we started training people about twenty years ago, at the time when I left, twenty years ago. So in twenty years time, in the beginning we trained or tried to recruit people with as high as possible levels of education but because the people that we did find at the time didn't have very high educational levels they were the NCOs and the men. Whenever we could find a black that had done Standard ten or matric at the time, because that was the prerequisite to become an officer, he was put on an officer's training course, so there were not many in the beginning, they came later. As far as that was concerned from the people that we recruited there was no discrimination between anyone. The bloke does his job well, he gets promoted within that job.

POM     So when you presented this information to the TRC?

GM     They didn't believe it.

POM     They just blind-eyed it?

GM     They didn't believe it because there were not as many senior officers, blacks, as there were whites but it takes time to make a senior officer. It took me twenty years to become a senior officer so it takes time and I started off with an MSc degree, so with Standard six it just takes a hell of a lot longer because you've got to educate him as well and if you're in a war there's not much time to educate him, he must also fight so he must train and fight. This is the sort of thing that wasn't appreciated, I think, enough.

POM     You were able to provide them with statistics that showed that?

GM     Yes, yes.

POM     And they just said?

GM     They just said nothing. The facts did not suit them really.

POM     The perception was made up and the facts had to fit the perception or else the facts were thrown out.

GM     That is how we perceived it.

POM     Do you feel, having served both President de Klerk as Chief of Staff and President Mandela as Chief of Staff, and having to preside over the transformation that was beginning to take place within the military, do you find it surprising that things like the Tempe incident occurred or the accusations of racism within the military are made or do you find that ?

GM     No, I don't find it particularly surprising because what happened during the transformation let me put it to you like this, if the plan according to which transformation was supposed to continue would have been agreed to completely by the political masters there would have been no problem, but because of the fact that the ANC in the beginning loaded their lists with names that did not exist or were not soldiers, a lot of these people were not military trained and they didn't have the military know-how to enable them to be accepted very well within the arm of the military. Once you know that fact there are a lot of people who were pushed into positions that they were not fitted for, not suited for, not fit for it. So once stress appears, and now if I can interrupt myself, there are two problems that exist at the outer edges which are very difficult to find an antidote for. The one is - it's never my fault, it's always somebody else's fault. In their language if you ask them why are you late, he wouldn't tell me I've missed the bus, he would say, "The bus left me", if you translate it directly from what he was saying. So there is always somebody, if it's not his wife, it's the previous government, it's apartheid, or it's the tokolosh or the spiritual little being that's blamed for everything. So the one thing is - it's never my fault. The other one is that there's no incentive to better oneself. That's a very old one, because in ancestral days only the Chief and his delegate, the witchdoctor, could speak to ancestral spirits. So if I'm a bad Chief and you are progressing, your cattle are better than mine, you could have done it by yourself but you must have got extra help and you're not allowed to do it so I either kill you or your cattle or something like that. So a bad Chief never had people that tried to surpass him because they were not allowed to do so. So you put those two things together, it's a curse of Africa. When you find someone not doing well first of all he will hate his other black man if he does better than him because he's not allowed to do better. The other thing is it couldn't be his fault so it must be the apartheid regime's fault or if it's not there it must be racism. Every inability if you are not a well trained soldier is depicted against the position it can't be my fault, I can't be at fault so it must be racism that is indulging this onto me to say that you can't go further and you can't do that and you can't do the other.

     On the other side there are also people that don't understand the blacks' reasoning. White people now I'm talking about and they would be strong on him as they would be on a white man if he was AWOL for a day or two, absent without leave, but he might have had a very good reason, but in the military you must ask before you go, you can't go away without permission. In black culture if you've got a problem at home you can stay there. It is difficult. Not trying to make a compromise they would be hard on him and if you're AWOL that day's pay is subtracted from the end of the month pay. It's always the same if you're absent without leave.

     So in that case in Tempe it was a racist thing where there was a cultural difference or just being a thing that was brought to the boil on racist grounds for sure. I'm not surprised at that. It could have been helped if it were not that the politicians tried to make amends for things that were not there because the real people, the real trained soldiers of MK and APLA we have no real problem with. It's these hangers on that came in as additionals that we have problems with.

POM     I've probably asked you before but to reiterate, if an army is fighting or going to war, the army must have an enemy, an identifiable enemy against whom you are fighting. In the case of the wars that took place whether in Angola or incursions into other countries or whatever, who was the enemy?

GM     At that time?

POM     Yes.

GM     At that time the enemy was the communists.

POM     OK.

GM     It was Russian imperialism, it was SWAPO. We never fought the ANC because they were never there. It was basically FAPLA, Angolan people and it was Russians, East Germans, Czechoslovakians and it was Cubans. They were clearly identifiable, it was defined that's how the enemy looks like. In the internal situation it wasn't clear because there you would fight to protect, not fight against. You would fight to protect and a bloke coming in to either bomb, maim, plant mines, kill, he is at that point in time the enemy whoever he might be. He could have been white and with spots on. In that case you fight to protect, like a guard guarding a thing. If somebody comes in he doesn't know who it is but he is not allowed to do that so you are then fighting against him the one is a more pre-active way of engaging, you can make war because you know what the enemy looks like. The other one is a reactive way because you wait until someone does something then you try first of all you try for him not to do it by means of your actions and then if he still does it then you act against him individually. Very much more difficult, much more difficult to do it this way. At the moment there is no enemy but you must be ready to fight an enemy whenever he could appear so you depict a theoretical enemy who has so many brigades and so many tanks and so many things, well that's an old military ploy, you do it that way. This is how it is done now and if you deploy your troops in a moment you guard against or you assist the police in doing this or you act against criminals, whatever the case may be, but it is not a clear-cut enemy picture.

POM     Do you feel that after five years in the process of transformation that the standards of military professionalism in the military have fallen?

GM     Yes. For sure. It would have fallen even if there was no transformation. You keep standards up by being active. I mean the standards of the Canadian army at one stage of the game were deplorable because they never had a war, never fought in a war since World War 2, so when they were confronted in Somalia they were not a very well disciplined group of people. You know what happened? Their Chief of Staff was fired by the minister and things like that because of what happened in Somalia. It was basically because their standards dropped. They had no way of making or sharpening, keeping the blade sharpened and the blade became dull because the actions that they were employed in were all just peace type operations so they were never kept sharp and if you don't train very well standards can drop. I have found this that five years after the war that we were physically engaged in, and in our major exercises I could see this bloke has been in action, this one wasn't. It doesn't matter where he came from, it could have been some of the best soldiers that there were. If you're well trained but he hasn't got the same standards as the bloke next to him because the bloke next to him has been in actual practical battle.

     So, yes, standards will drop because of that but also standards and know-how and continuity drop because a lot of people left the military. Most of them left not because they didn't like it but because they were given the opportunity of buying themselves out, or not buying out but getting this package deal, for so many years you get that sort of cash flow and so much cash, I've never seen that in my life, so hell, let us go for it and try and make a new life while we can. We don't have a war at the moment and we can always back when there's a war. This is the sort of attitude.

     Yes, there are a lot of people and there is good know-how that has left the military. But I've got three kids in the military. One is a Lieutenant to a Captain and I can see from them they're not as sharp as I would have liked them to be. The system isn't made sharp enough because there's no direct threat. Then if people don't train hard enough they will do this. Yes, for those two reasons I think military standards have dropped somewhat.

POM     Do you think that is, this is a large question, but emblematic of what's happening in other sectors of the country, the rush to transform?

GM     I think as far as the civil service is concerned we've lost a lot. I don't think civil servants are normally as dedicated to their jobs as the military people are. My kids could have left but they like to be soldiers. One is in the Armoured Corps, one is in Special Forces and the other one is in the Infantry and they like it, they like the training, the like the way, they like to train people, they like the excitement of it and there's no normal dull day-to-day routine job. They tend to stay longer, people in the military tend to stay much longer than people in normal life. Yes, there's many more people left the civil service and the ones that were from the old environment that stayed were not the better ones, so I think the standard, as far as that is concerned, dropped quite considerably.

POM     Those who had self-confidence in their own ability they said I'll take my package and I can

GM     They went out. Do something.

POM     One other thing I was going to ask you about was Operation Vula, and I've been talking recently to Mac Maharaj who was running the operation in the country. Were the military aware of this?

GM     Yes. We had the whole plan.

POM     Before the documents were seized at Tongaat?

GM     Yes.

POM     You had the whole thing?

GM     It was a very difficult time because at that time the ANC was already made legal, was legalised, MK was legalised to a degree and you couldn't act in the way that you should have acted, or you could have acted in the previous era. But we knew about this and we had lots of plans to counter that should it happen. It was reactionary plans to a large degree because you couldn't pre-empt again because there was not enough hard fact. Although you had plans and things it was not happening and now you're inside your own country and if you don't have enough evidence to convince a judge, hard evidence, you could really do nothing because a bloke must actually perform the act and then you can find him guilty. But not having done something but having planned and not sure whether the planning was just planning or whether it was actually true you couldn't do a pre-emptive strike against anyone. So, yes, we had plans, we had plans against it. I don't think they knew that we did. We knew about Vula when they started planning it.

POM     Was President de Klerk kept fully informed?

GM     He didn't believe it.

POM     He didn't believe it?

GM     No, he didn't believe it. We just continued and made the plans that if it happened we would have been able to do it.

POM     Are you telling me there was a situation where the chief brass in the army comes and says - Mr President this is  -

GM     De Klerk did not like the military, not because of what we did but because he didn't like the previous Minister of Defence and he didn't like the previous President who had a very strong bond, and the military was beaming in the glow from the presidency because the minister was in very good rapport with the President, and when he became President he was at the time kept in the dark of most things happening. So he didn't like those two people and when he took over from PW Botha he let Magnus go and he appointed other people and he didn't have a very good rapport between the military and him.

POM     Can I ask you a human question, that given the power that the 'securocrats' exercised in the latter years of PW's term in power, was there a resentment in senior parts of the military after De Klerk began to de-securitise?

GM     I think there was a lot of people were sorry that it happened because there was a very good system running.

POM     This was the National Management Security System?

GM     Yes, it was a good system to deploy against insurgent operations and insurgency now because you went down to grassroots level and you performed good governance from the very lowest point to the top but it also meant that you had to co-ordinate very strongly on all different levels. Because of the fact that the only really well-trained people at grassroots level and at middle management level were the military, they normally took the lead. There was a lot of resentment also from other state partners because they didn't like being told that you're not doing your job properly, you're not supplying water at that place because if you don't supply water the people would start getting cross and we have a security problem so won't you please assist in getting water there and if they don't we went and drilled a hole and gave the people water to take the potential strife factor away from it. That was basically what this meant. This was a very good system as far as managing unrest was concerned. The British used it in Malaysia to a very good degree and in other places as well. The French used it in Algeria also and it worked quite well.

     The point of fact is that when De Klerk came in that was a heritage of the Malan and Botha era and he didn't want that so he took it down and said you must now take decisions at cabinet level. Instead of co-ordinating, going up to the next level, you go up everybody to his only problem and nothing happened because there is no co-ordinated action where it's meant to be. Some people would build a hospital but the other one wouldn't supply medicine. Stupid example, sorry, but this is the sort of thing. Some people do this and they don't tell anyone else, building a hospital but not asking the people to supply water and electricity and you find things not co-ordinated properly in the country and previously it was.

     I think it was a bit of disillusionment but not so much that they found themselves at loggerheads with government. They were just sorry that that actually happened because there was a very good system running.

POM     When did the SADF recognise that AIDS is going to be a problem in the country, particularly with returning troops from Angola and other places and begin to compile information?

GM     I think it became known that AIDS is a factor of importance I'm not sure but I think it was somewhere in the middle eighties, as late as that because it was not perceived to be a real threat. I think so, I'm not sure, I'm not quite sure about it. I became aware of this when I became Officer Commanding of Northern Transvaal Command, that was in the Pietersburg area when I was General Officer Commanding there. That was in 1987 but then I was away in Namibia for a long time and we didn't think about AIDS at that point in time, it was never in the doctrine. For our medics we had normal things. It was only when I came back to the Republic of South Africa that I found that, gee whiz, we've got to wear gloves in training because we had to ask for gloves and then it became known to me. I would think in the early eighties, round about 1992/93 this became a factor to be recognised. But even so it was a theoretical factor. I think in the nineties, 1991 it really became known because then we operated in KwaZulu-Natal and we found that after a while our troops are HIV positive, or some of them were. So we went into quite a planning phase to try and get people to know about this, but that's about I think what I can say to you.

POM     Do you think it is speculation on my part that given that this was the period of transition and negotiation that for the government of the day, for people like yourself to say - President de Klerk there is a real problem beginning to simmer out there, it's AIDS, it's going to eat into the black population.

GM     No, that AIDS was a problem was discussed at Security Council meetings a number of times round about late eighties, beginning nineties when I was present. I was part of,  observer to the Security Council when I was Chief of the Army but I wasn't there constantly, only when it directly involved me, and I know sometimes AIDS was discussed but as a theoretical medical problem that affects the whole spectrum of life or could affect the whole spectrum of life in southern Africa. It wasn't believed that the tempo was so high. The medical people were warning against it at that time but I don't think people believed that it was as dangerous as they pointed it out to be. They thought they were prophets of doom. In 1993 we started to know that this is now a real problem and you couldn't do any future planning without taking the AIDS thing in, but at that point in time it was almost the beginning, 1993/94 when the new government came into being, and they didn't want to talk about AIDS because it wasn't politically good news to do that and we lost two or three very good years.

POM     Last question and it's a quotation from Desmond Tutu's book No Future Without Forgiveness. It's just an extract and before I came here I talked to General van der Merwe, former Police Commissioner. He says:

     "In our report (that's the Commission report) we identified some of the phrases we found both in Security Council documents and in politicians' speeches on public platforms and in parliament, like 'eliminate enemy leaders', 'neutralise', 'destroy terrorists', 'physical destruction of people and facilities', 'take out', 'wipe out', 'make a plan', 'remove', 'cause to disappear', 'use methods other than detention', 'use unconventional methods'."

     Then he goes on:

     "If you tell a soldier eliminate your enemy, depending on the circumstances you would understand that means killing. It is not the only meaning but it is specifically one meaning."  That's Van der Merwe. Commissioner, "I am saying that would you agree that the unfortunate use of that language, 'eliminate', 'wipe out' and so on resulted in deaths, would you agree with that?" And van der Merwe said, "Yes Mr Chairman."

     Then you had a senior military person who said that they understood that if you had an instruction to eliminate somebody that that meant kill them and everybody knew that.

GM     There were no such orders to kill.

POM     One, in all the hearings of the SSC that you participated in or were an observer at, was language like that used?

GM     No. Language or words that were often used were taken out of normal or removed from normal environment which meant to sustain, in other words the 90 day and later 180 day detention clause, that you could take the bloke out and question him for a considerable time if there is not enough evidence to detain him completely. I wouldn't say that there was ever, where I was present, things of just go and kill them or just go and eliminate them or words to this effect. When I was there we preserved a plan, the plan was to destruct a facility but never to kill people. We didn't say go and kill people and do we want to kill so many people. If they ask you about the possibility, you said, well if you bomb a thing like that there would be fatalities but this is what we would like to do. The military aim is to take out a facility at a certain stage and they would say yes, continue to do so, minimum loss of life. We had always in our limitations a minimum loss of life.

POM     Let me ask you a final complex question. Given the sophistication of the security forces, the army, the intelligence agencies, the security police, whatever, how could an operation like Vlakplaas, De Kock and others like him, exist, operate, kill, bomb, do whatever, without your own intelligence agency saying, you know what these blokes are up to?

GM     You must remember that there was hell of a bickering between the different intelligence agencies and the military intelligence agency was not allowed to gather information that was not strictly within military target environmental areas. In other words I could for a military operation get information. I would be rather free to do it, not always because most of the time I had a policeman looking over my bloody shoulder if it was inside the country. Outside if you were fighting across the border it was your total mandate to gather information to do your task properly. But because inside the Republic the military was always used in assisting the police, the people responsible for intelligence of the overall operation were the police and the secret police or the security police. The military people were allowed to take in, to gather information pertaining to a specific operation or a specific area, whatever the case. So it was quite easy for the police to do autonomous jobs without the military knowing about it.

POM     I suppose my question would be, even in that situation do you find it credible to believe that police agencies simply didn't know what was going on?

GM     No, the police did know what was going on.

POM     Did?

GM     Oh yes of course they did.

POM     So they are white-washing themselves in a way when they say, oh it was a rogue element here and a rogue element there.

GM     There were a lot of rogue elements, yes, but I think they knew about it. They couldn't have done it otherwise because then they wouldn't have done their job. That was their responsibility. Nothing happened in my force if I didn't know about it for sure.

POM     Somebody had to be responsible.

GM     For sure, I never doubted what was happening on my side. I didn't have such a thing in my bosom but I don't know what the police had and they were responsible for their service.  We assisted like this.

POM     But in your professional estimation, that's the question, do you find it hard to believe that with all their networks of infiltration and - ?

GM     They were not very good at infiltrating. They were very good at beating information out of people, the police, but apart from that, yes I think what happened in their service they would know about for sure and Vlakplaas was within their service so they would know about it, for sure.

POM     OK. My time's up. Thank you. I'll be back to see you again. I always like talking to you.

GM     Thank you.

POM     You throw a different kind of light on things.

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.