This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
22 Sep 2000: Wessels, Leon
POM. OK, we're going to start again, Leon. You're going to tell me about your childhood, your upbringing and the things that stick out in your mind as being some of the formative influences in your life.
LW. Padraig, you remember that television has Judy managed to get that television interview?
POM. No she hasn't yet.
LW. Because it's going to be in Afrikaans. Does that help?
POM. I will be able to translate it.
LW. Because then I have to call her and see what we have to do to assist, to get this thing there. Padraig, I'm trying to think new things in a fresh way. I did tell you about Vryburg, you haven't got notes or anything, it was all on the tapes?
POM. All on the tapes.
LW. Finish and klaar. Well I grew up in Vryburg. Vryburg was a small town, Vryburg was a town where we were exposed to lots of people in the sense that people didn't have that tight stiffness which they have in cities so there was quite a cross-cultural mix and everybody knew a lot about the other person. I think, I would say, it was very formative to me because I got to sing and to know Nkosi Sikelel'i at a very young age and I got to know Tswana people and to learn a little bit about Tswana and so on. And all of that I would say was part of really my background. My father was a police officer in Vryburg so I'm a small town boy, small town person.
POM. And you went to school there?
LW. I went to school in Vryburg.
POM. You're not concentrating today.
LW. Yes, no I'm not. I still have Tel Aviv in my bones. I've just come from Tel Aviv this morning. But let's do it because we only have today.
POM. Before, you were talking about your father was a District Commander in Vryburg.
LW. That's right.
POM. You would accompany him around the area when he would visit the various police stations? I was asking you what kind of policing was he - ?
LW. Yes, he was a police officer, a uniformed police officer and in other words that meant that they had to a uniformed police officer in my book meant that they weren't a specialised unit, they would police across the board, across communities, investigate crime across borders, across communities and because he was a Commander he was also in an administrative, managerial kind of position overseeing people regardless of rank or race or colour or creed.
POM. But he would have nothing to do with the Security Branch?
LW. No, I don't think there was really a Security Branch at that time but he was never a Security Branch member. But at that stage, Vryburg days, I don't think the Security Branch was either as effectively organised or at all established, I'm not sure in those days, but he was definitely not a member of the Security Branch at any stage of his career.
POM. When you were growing up were you in any manner aware of apartheid?
LW. Yes, apartheid was there, very much so in the sense that everybody knew I mean apartheid was rigid in terms of the statutes. Influx control bells would go off in the city, black people outside of the city would not be permitted to move around unless they had a permit to do so. Group Areas Act, Mixed Marriages Act and things like that were there. In that sense one was aware of the grand, big structures of apartheid working in society but I cannot recall that either I, at that stage, or the adults in my father's company seriously questioned it at that stage. I'm talking of the fifties.
POM. It was just taken for it was there.
LW. It was there, it was in the fifties and for me it was there. I didn't really debate or understand how it was grounded and what it was going to lead to.
POM. It was normal.
LW. It was like, yes, that was what one was born into and that was what you understood to be the thing of the day and in that sense my father would police and keep those statutes properly policed in the sense that people would be - I am sure those laws like apartheid Group Areas Act, influx control laws and things like that, he would be involved in policing that.
POM. When you say 'bells would go off', would they literally go off?
LW. Yes, there were sirens at night.
POM. And that meant every black person who didn't have a special permit to stay within Vryburg - ?
LW. Or to say why he was there, yes.
POM. He had to be out of the town.
LW. Yes he had to be out of town, he had to be in a specific group area. That was so.
POM. That would be an adjacent township?
LW. Mm. That's true.
POM. Now when you grew up you joined the police, you were Mounted Police.
LW. That's right.
POM. And Mounted Police were mostly used for?
LW. Ja, well the point is really I'm not sure that I ever really had in mind to be a policeman and to make a career out of the SA Police but it was always thought and looked upon that either you would go to the police or you would go to the defence force as part of military service and training and I never really seriously questioned the idea that that was where I would go because I had been involved in horse riding and in the police fraternity and environment and that would be part of growing up and I would actually decide as I went along what would I do if I make a career out of the police force. So I spent my three years in the police college as part of military service one may say and I was attached to the Mounted Police section and part of doing other kind of jobs in police training, other commitments, obligations in that respect but not really
POM. As a youth you had done show jumping?
LW. Oh yes I had. Horses were part of my life, it was part of my upbringing so to speak and I was very much involved in that.
POM. Did you participate in shows?
LW. Yes I did.
POM. At a national level?
LW. Yes. I'm not sure how long or how deep you want me to go into this because each of them are long, long stories. I was quite successful. I participated in national shows, national events, at provincial level, national competitions and did fairly well in those competitions.
POM. Now you got a scholarship?
LW. Abe Bailey.
POM. That was to go to the for Afrikaans and English speaking students to get to know ?
LW. Yes, Sir Abe Bailey had launched the Abe Bailey scholarship and students from Afrikaans and English speaking universities were invited and he had organised these trips, had organised these trips to go to various universities and see various British institutions. But part of the vision of that scholarship was also to get Afrikaans and English speaking students to understand and to get to know one another better, so that was part of it.
POM. So you went to the UK, travelled around the UK for a couple of months.
LW. Yes, for two months, normally the December/January holidays.
POM. Was that your first time abroad?
LW. No it wasn't, it had been my second time abroad. After the police, after leaving the police force before going to university I made quite an extensive back-packing visit to Europe lasting about six months and that had quite an impact.
POM. Questions of - ?
LW. Because one landed in hostels, in youth hostels and would stay in youth hostels and the issue of apartheid was foremost in the minds of many people staying in youth hostels so one was debating, one had to debate, defend apartheid and the status of apartheid and things like that fairly often and it was also in that period that Dr Verwoerd was murdered, in September 1966, and I was travelling at that stage.
POM. So did you find yourself having to defend apartheid?
LW. Absolutely yes, very much so, very much so. One certainly had to defend apartheid in all its manifestations.
POM. How were you defending it? What kind of defence?
LW. Well part of the arguments were plain rubbish arguments in the sense that people didn't know what was happening in the country so it was easy just to talk about facts, but the real moral arguments about apartheid were not that easy to deal with. So one fairly often ran out of arguments because the grand scheme of apartheid can work on paper but in reality it becomes a completely different thing when you start the division of nation states for different peoples in SA to make sense. You can argue that for Eastern Europe, any country for that matter in a vacuum, but once you bring reality to that it changes the whole thing and once it's not a voluntary vision, a plan that has to be executed on a voluntary basis but through force, it changes the whole notion and that was very difficult to defend and also the kind of biblical, Calvinistic arguments in which apartheid was grounded were arguments that I used and experimented with and debated because after all at that stage it was the Dutch Reform Church's policy that apartheid was grounded in the bible, each state must have its own land and nations should be separated and that's how they defended and argued about mixed marriages and everything, so I tried all those arguments, I used all those arguments.
POM. Do you think that when Verwoerd devised the policy of grand apartheid that in fact it was well intentioned, that he actually thought that each having its own
LW. I'm guessing now and that's how I defended it at the time because I do not believe that if it wasn't Verwoerd at least many people around him did have those good intentions, yes.
POM. But then part of it was that these independent states, homelands, would be developed?
LW. That's absolutely so.
POM. And I do recall you saying you visited a number of them and found that
LW. They had not been developed.
POM. There was no development at all.
LW. Absolutely, and the way the money was I mean Verwoerd didn't allow white entrepreneurs to move in and assist with the development so the development wasn't there. The development that one thought was going to happen there wasn't there, it had not materialised for a number of reasons. There were developments but certainly not nearly enough to justify it or to back up this grand vision.
POM. Then I also recall you saying that you took a long tour of Soweto and that you realised that the chances of people returning to the homelands was a fantasy.
LW. Absolutely. You see, Padraig, I'm not sure what I'm repeating and what I'm not repeating but you'll sort it out. You see there were basically three major things, forget about the morality of it and the philosophy about it, but the practical things about it, the first practical thing was that on that visit to Europe, that hitchhiking, backpacking visit to Europe, on the return I realised that whites do not fully comprehend what the policy means because the policy means that ultimately they would be doing work which blacks were doing at that moment for them and they weren't ready for the policy to really
LW. Well, for example, manual labour work, black people were doing that. If the policy was going to be successful this was going to be a white homeland, a white volkstaat so to speak and they would have to move out behind their offices and their desks and supervisor kind of jobs and start doing those jobs. So I suddenly realised that they were not going to do that, that's not going to happen. First of all, all the blacks were not going to move and no way was somebody who was sitting behind a desk or was holding a supervisor's job going to change and return to manual labour. So there was that discrepancy, the first discrepancy.
. The second discrepancy was when I saw the homelands for myself I had this kind of vision, there was a lot of activity, development taking place because the policy was there would be so much development people would withdraw naturally from the urban areas there and that's the reason why we are making it uncomfortable for them to be in white urban areas, they would say well there is a better life in the homelands, let's leave this place and go there. And then I saw first hand but the development was simply not there to overturn the tide, so to speak, from the rural moving to urban and now urban saying well it's not as pleasant as we would want it to be, we would rather go back to the homelands. That was the second one.
. The third point, this was already in the beginning of the seventies and I was already a senior student then, it was during the period that the Abe Bailey scholarship also occurred, we were spending a lot of money to house people, to develop urban SA. There were many, many houses, there were transport systems going, there was water, not nearly enough but how were people going to ever abandon that and go back home?
. So those three events I would say were like big, big events. Now you see many of these stories have to be repeated before you actually become completely convinced. In other words you have your doubts, as I said it elsewhere in that Rimini speech, you have your doubts about the practicalities, you find it difficult to defend. Then you begin to question aspects of the policy and say, well is this really moral? Can you justify this on moral grounds? And you say, well maybe, maybe not and it's a partial questioning of the morality and then ultimately you come to the conclusion that this whole thing is a farce, it's immoral, it's indefensible, you have to change completely. So on those scales, can I just make this point, that when the Munsieville events of 1986 occurred
POM. Which ones?
LW. Munsieville, the township of Munsieville in Krugersdorp. I speak a lot about it, I wrote a lot about it, it is part of that book I wrote End of an Era, the Munsieville, the three towns I refer to the three towns but the one town is Munsieville. It's a black township in Krugersdorp adjacent to the white Krugersdorp town and that's where Desmond Tutu went to school, Munsieville. Then Munsieville was right next to the white town of Krugersdorp and we didn't want to move Munsieville to the homelands any more, we wanted to move it to another spot, to Kagiso which is the bigger, modern black township of Krugersdorp at the time and it was impossible to move Munsieville from where it was right to Kagiso. The people simply reversed it and they said it takes us two, three, four, five kilometres further away from our jobs, we've been spending our whole lives here. The Munsieville experience was just a deepening of the student visiting Soweto so many years before, that this thing of forced removals, be it forced removals from white towns to homelands or from one suburb to another suburb so that there could be exclusively white group areas. It's just not on. So as you go along and as you go from the one experience to the other experience you enrich yourself, you develop, you grow.
POM. So at what age did you come to the conclusion that this isn't practical, this isn't practically workable?
LW. I don't think, I say this maybe at my own peril or cost, I don't think that there was a specific moment when I had a clear vision of everything. It was like a step by step experience as you went along but I would say the pinnacle of it all was when negotiations really started. The vision one had then in the early nineties compared to the vision I had in the seventies, eighties, was completely different albeit that one all along began to question.
POM. Now you went to parliament a year after the Soweto uprising?
POM. What impact did the Soweto uprising have on you or were the details of it available to the white population or did you wonder what was going on? Did you know?
LW. Padraig, you're writing different things and I'm not sure how you're going to do it still and I speak staccato style and I'm not sure I know what you know of me and what you do want to know and how deep and how wide you want to go and so on.
. In 1976 I was the leader of the Junior National Party in Transvaal which was called the National Youth League and because of that position I had quite a lot of access to political leaders and so on. I sat in on high power, high level executives and meetings and things like that so I sat in on meetings of party political structures in which John Vorster participated, FW de Klerk was a junior member of parliament, Connie Mulder, all of that. So I had all the versions which floated around in those circles. But I would like to believe that I did already at that stage have quite an inquisitive mindset but I didn't really, I'm not claiming that I knew and I'm not claiming that I understood. That's not what I'm saying, but I definitely was reading The World and newspapers like that even at that stage. I wasn't confined only to Afrikaans newspapers, I was reading black newspapers. I remember that there was quite a strong protest march during that period to the Wits campus and I listened to some of those meetings. I would just simply like to say, albeit that I had a reasonably open mind, I'm not claiming that I understood, but in 1980 I managed to meet Tsitsi Matsinini's brother Paul Matsinini. Now Tsitsi was the leader of the uprising and he had fled the country. Because of the intervention of people, other personalities, I was already in parliament, they did suggest that I meet Paul Matsinini who was part of another group of young people from Soweto and I did meet him and much to his surprise, to Paul's surprise, he discovered that I knew more of what had happened in 1976 than he had expected me to know. Amongst other things I said to him, you see you cannot only rely on The World, and I think in 1980 it might have been The Sowetan because The World had been banned in 1977. So I said, "You also have to read the Afrikaans newspapers, you also have to read Beeld if you want to understand me because I'm trying to understand you but are you trying to understand me? It's a two-way traffic thing." But he was surprised how much I knew of what had happened there in 1976 and my understanding of it in 1976.
. Now over and above what I've told you, why I also knew was that I was at that stage, in other words, only a junior advocate in the middle seventies and I had been defending people on various charges, not of a political nature but ordinary criminal defence charges in Soweto, so I had been moving around in Soweto even since the first initial student visit in the seventies. I think it's fair to say that I cannot claim I knew or understood the situation but I definitely knew more and I definitely had a better understanding of what Afrikaners in general knew and understood of what was happening.
POM. I didn't ask you this before, how in 1976 was the Soweto uprising explained in NP circles?
LW. I guess to be fair to everybody it was explained as another uprising like you had the uprisings in the sixties and other uprisings and this was another wave of uprising, this was another generation. Basically black South Africans were peace loving citizens and this wasn't representative, it wasn't really deep-rooted, intimidation was rife and it was a number of hotheads who were exploiting the situation for political gain. I can't recall anything specific but I am sure that the communist card was also played. I cannot recall anything specific about that but I am absolutely sure that the communist card would also have been played.
POM. This is a quote from Who's Who or whatever, the South African one. It says: "Wessels maintains that he attempted to deal with law and order, at the same initiating a process of negotiation between population groups." How did you manage that?
LW. Roughly speaking that would refer, I think, to the middle eighties, beginning eighties, middle eighties when I held the position of being chairperson of the Parliamentary Law & Order Standing Committee as well as the NP Caucus Group. The argument which I clearly believed in and had believed in over a long period of time was that law and order was necessary. That's how I looked at it at the time, that it was there, it was necessary, you had to maintain law and order but that it was not going to be solved in that way. You had to find a political solution and you needed to find agreement on the political plain. So those two processes were going hand in glove all the time, that's something I had advocated, NP summits advocated. I had been talking to various people, people like Tutu who I would love to believe was already a friend, and Nthato Motlana.
POM. How did you meet him?
LW. Well I met Desmond for the first time in October 1985. There was a very religious process and event that took place in Pietermaritzburg and there was an initiative to get a group of people together just to sit and talk about peace and reconciliation and he and I attended that meeting and we got on well right from the very beginning, from the very first moment we were introduced and met and we argued and debated and quarrelled and even he, even Desmond, even Desmond at that stage acknowledged the fact that he was surprised that somebody like myself, given where I had come from, had the kind of understanding and knowledge of events surrounding Stephen Biko and so on. The rest, over there, there's Desmond, it's history where I spoke at his farewell function. I'm not sure whether you see Desmond, the small man between Trevor Manuel and myself on this picture. That was when he parted as Archbishop of the Anglican Church and he invited me to speak there. That was 1995/96, 1995 I guess. So it was a friendship of a decade at that stage which started there in Pietermaritzburg and we kept on talking and meeting and discussing and debating.
POM. So essentially he was kind of a feeder of what was going on in the black community to you?
LW. No, no, that is too narrow a role for him. I guess there were others who had been like feeders to me but what Desmond had been he had been the living example of what it meant when people debated sensibly with one another, disagreed sensibly with one another and how agreements could be reached. That, I guess, is what he was. No he had not really been the feeder of information, he had been an intellectual sparring partner, a friend whose friendship could not be betrayed. Desmond would say, "Just understand one thing, there are not going to be negotiations unless the ANC is unbanned and Mandela released." It was something more when Desmond said that to you in private than when reading it in a struggle pamphlet, saying 'we demand' and saying there is no way that people are going to change their mind on that issue and you suddenly realise, well, you have to move your parameters, you have to find ways how to get Mandela out of prison because negotiations are not going work without Mandela and so on. So that was the kind of role he played towards me.
POM. Allan Boesak too you met?
LW. Yes, Allan Boesak, not nearly as often as Desmond, in the eighties I'm talking about, and not nearly in the eighties that kind of tight intellectual relationship. I met him in 1982 and it was a serious debating contest between the two of us and I was very surprised at that stage in 1982 how far we were from one another and how difficult it was going to be to bridge the gap. I always said and explained afterwards, this is 1982 I'm talking about, I always explained afterwards to friends, colleagues, constituents, that one must understand one thing, that Boesak and I are more or less the same age, do we still have a lot of common ground between ourselves and if our generation, Boesak's generation and my generation were going to be unsuccessful in finding, reaching, understanding one another it's going to be more difficult for the generation to follow. So it was imperative that agreement be reached between our generation so to speak.
POM. This I know I asked you, you were different in terms of you would be (this is my classification) a liberal and a questioning young MP, not quite following or accepting of the orthodox line. The next thing is the most orthodox of all Prime Ministers, PW Botha, makes you a deputy minister and an important one, Deputy Minister of Law & Order. How come he said, "Wessels, I want you annoying me every day", rather than saying put him in the far back benches.
LW. I think he did try that. Well he did try to ignore me, he definitely did try to ignore me because there was a moment which later worked to my advantage, namely where he deliberately ignored me in the promotion stakes but there was quite a fair and reasonable and determined soft outcry against it. I put it in those terms because I can't explain it differently. It wasn't as if people revolted but people like FW, people like Gerrit Viljoen, to name the two, somebody like Dawie de Villiers, they were like senior members in the party but definitely De Klerk, definitely Viljoen, definitely De Villiers questioned, in a way came to my rescue by encouraging me and saying to me, well you should not feel downhearted or let down because PW Botha did this to you, you should just continue the way you are continuing and FW at that stage, November 1986, kind of made a commitment to me that he said this is wrong and it will be rectified. In March 1988 PW called me and said to me, "I want to make you Deputy Minister of Law & Order", and I don't think I had changed in that period significantly in the sense that I was in my own way quietly promoting what I believed in. I think, for lack of a better word, I think why he could work with me was because in a way, strange as it may be, PW did enjoy somebody that at times stood up to him and speak with him. I honestly believe that. I know people will tell you different stories but I honestly believe that.
POM. He liked a good fight on occasions.
LW. I was not in a position to fight with him but I was in a position to say to him, "But what about this? What about that?" and I did that and I have every reason to believe that he took it seriously and it was based on that that I was promoted.
POM. You mentioned FW and many commentator's views, like the FW of the eighties was strong, conservative, portrayed as that, as coming from the more conservative wing of the party whereas the picture you give of him encouraging you to
LW. There's no question about that, there are two reasons. The first one was that PW
POM. No question of his being - ?
LW. No De Klerk didn't reason that I was like a revolutionary. He thought well let me start with the second question first. Peter Bottomley, FW de Klerk told me this himself, Peter Bottomley who was the son of a former British Ambassador to SA, as they were at that stage, I think he's married to Virginia he is married to a Mrs Bottomley but I think her name is Virginia. Virginia Bottomley became a cabinet minister and Peter Bottomley became a junior minister and then there's a long family explanation he served in Margaret Thatcher's executive and John Major also. But nonetheless the Bottomleys are well known British personalities in SA's history. Peter Bottomley asked FW in the eighties, "When you, FW, say that you are on the left wing of the NP right wing, what does that mean?" And FW explained and Bottomley said, "I don't understand you. So tell me, where do you stand in relation to Leon Wessels?" Because I knew Bottomley and I knew the Bottomleys, Virginia, Peter, etc., etc., and FW said, "Well Wessels is a younger generation than what I am. That means that he has to be more inquisitive, he has to question or he has to take the debate further than what I'm taking it because he represents another generation." That's how he put it but FW did not think of me as a disloyal revolutionary because, as I said, I didn't have this clear vision, it was like a step by step growing experience to me and it was people like the Boesaks, the Tutus, the Motlanas and the others who kept on helping me understand what was happening as I was growing from that small town policeman's son in Vryburg who did not question any iota of apartheid structures as I was moving along. In that sense it was blatantly clear to FW that PW had done something which was not in his book the correct thing.
. Now when I subsequently years later became Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and I walked into Pik Botha's office that particular day now Pik was also a senior and I was a junior Pik on that day said to me, "Yes, and now the children have grown up", because that's how he looked at me. I was not in parliament when he became a cabinet minister and then I was a junior MP and suddenly the years had gone by and there I was sitting as his junior minister. Pik Botha said words to this effect, "Yes, I'm growing old because the children have grown up." That's what he said to me. He said, "But I want to tell you something, I want to welcome you here in the Department of Foreign Affairs and I want to tell you PW wanted to punish you, he wanted to teach you a lesson." I'm quoting Pik word for word now, "He wanted to teach you a lesson and that's how we first excluded you, then included you in this portfolio. We thought we would be able to keep an eye on you and here you are today."
. My own thinking to that is I do believe, contrary to what everybody else may claim, I do believe that in his heart of hearts when PW made that speech 'Adapt or Die'
POM. The Rubicon.
LW. No, not the Rubicon. Just you had to adapt or die, he meant it but he did not, for different reasons, whatever those reasons may be, have the capacity, the ability, to see it through to the end and that's why he got scared, so to speak, in my book, in the process of the Rubicon speech. Shall I not say the speech, the Rubicon experience.
POM. There are two stories just before I leave your life that I recall but I want them in your words. One was about a groom that taught you the words of
LW. Nkosi Sikelel'i.
POM. It was a groom at your home?
LW. That's right. Let me tell you, we have to speak to Judy because my daughter has a copy of that video in Cape Town. She's guarding and holding on to it jealously. Erica Wessels.
POM. I will be flying down tonight!
LW. The point is that that man Hendrick Mogakwe was a labourer, so to speak, in our family service and amongst others he was working with the horses and with me and he and I spent a lot of time together talking about many things, life stories, life experiences, life expectation, many, many things. This was in Vryburg. This is in the midst of all those apartheid structures that I'm talking of now but that would be our common turf, the stables where we would meet and talk and chat and have fun. That was where he taught me many things, amongst others Nkosi Sikelel'i and I sang it and it was a beautiful serious song to sing. I just loved it and I understood it from the way he presented it to me and I didn't ever, ever see that as a serious revolutionary song. I always associated that with Hendrick.
POM. I recall you saying it
LW. In parliament.
POM. - when parliament opened.
LW. Yes, that is of that period.
POM. You were the only member of the NP who was able to sing.
LW. I sang it from the podium.
POM. The podium?
LW. Yes I sang it from the podium. It's in the video and they questioned me about that in this TV programme and the little clip where I sing it is there. Well I made another speech about it on another occasion and I could do this because I had now no prejudice against Nkosi Sikelel'i and association and I actually pleaded with the NP to adopt it. I said that in 1992 because I said whether you like it or not our supporters, people who were supporting us, the NP, were singing Nkosi and to them it was like a prayer. It was more than - you could call it a liberation song, it was like a prayer, and I said you have to understand the words in Afrikaans to appreciate that.
POM. It's beautiful.
POM. I always get a shiver when I hear people singing it in three part harmony and they all fall into place. Then there was the other story that stuck in my mind about, again, a worker on a farm who was talking about the Group Areas Act and who said to you
LW. That also, I know that story. That's also a video story. The name of the gentleman is Sexton Motsemai, he was a police officer and it wasn't Vryburg any more, it was already Krugersdorp but it still was horses and the stables and the junior police officers and Hendrick Mogakwe and I were always mixing, roaming around, talking and chatting and this Sexton was a very beautiful young, attractive police officer and I one day saw him policing people for their passes, their dompas. A dompas means you're stupid. Dom means stupid, you may say 'your stupid pass'. It was given that name because it was only stupid dumb people who would allow themselves to be caught by the police for not carrying a pass. This is what he was doing, the police van was stopping and Sexton and others were looking where were your passes, influx control passes. I walked past or I rode past with my bicycle and he was on duty and I didn't want to disturb him but one day in that environment where we met I said, "Sexton, but you surprise me, you amaze me. I thought that you were a young policeman policing, protecting the community and you were arresting robbers and murderers and there I saw you the other day standing next to the street asking people for their dompas, their influx control passes. What kind of a policeman are you?" The relationship was a fantastic relationship, it still is today right up to this day.
POM. Is he still in the police?
LW. No, no, he's retired. His response was a very simple one. He said, "Leo, (for Leon) if you are a grown up and you speak the way you do then I will say you are a man." And that's how he dismissed the whole thing. He just knew I didn't have a clue what I was talking about. I was about 12, 13. That's how he dismissed the argument but it stayed with me and when the influx control laws were repealed in the mid eighties, 1985, 1986, I called him, Sexton Motsemai, and I said, "Sexton, do you remember that day?" which goes back a long time, about 26 years I would imagine, "Do you remember that day? I just want you to know the laws are being repealed in parliament today." That was a wonderful friendship and Sexton invited me to his farewell party when he said goodbye, when he retired from the police I was already a cabinet minister at that stage and his supervisor, senior officers, who I would imagine were all white, said, "But you can't do that." And he said, "Why can't I do that? I know that man. That man is my friend." And they said, "You can't do that." He insisted and then they said, "Well if that's the way it's going to be we have to invite a General to come and match the protocol to also attend the function." And I did meet a General at the function and he said, "Well you are the reason that I came all the way from Pretoria to this function because Sexton insisted that you be invited." I don't know whether I still have that picture. There was an incredible picture taken of Sexton and me that day. He's a great friend, a great man.
POM. Some of these are on to more technical things. This is on the housing policy. You said, "It's a matter where there has been more progress. We need to talk, we ask institutions but the ANC has a policy of not wanting to advise, to be involved in decision making." What did you mean by that?
LW. You see the ANC, that was in 1991-92 I guess and they didn't want the NP to draw on their advice and then develop a successful housing policy, implement the housing policy and then say we the National Party did this and that, therefore vote for us. They wanted to be part of the decision making and say, well, we the Nats and the ANC took this decision. That's why this is working. They wanted to be part of government, they didn't want to be co-opted or to be advisors or anything like that.
POM. The second was, this is "I gave evidence to the Goldstone Commission on the hostel situation", in 1992. "We have the finances. We have budgeted for the resources but we had a problem implementing and spending the money." What were the problems in spending and implementing?
LW. Well it has to do with a credible housing policy. You needed communities to endorse the policy at that stage, to say let's fence the hostels in or let's upgrade the hostels or let's demolish the hostels. There's no way that there was too much politicking going on. The fact that we had the money didn't mean that the communities would allow us to spend the money.
POM. It was an adversarial relationship between the communities and the hostels.
LW. It simply meant that the NP had the de facto power, we were empowered but we didn't have the legitimacy to implement and really change their lives as we would have liked to change them.
POM. You came out in disagreement with the Goldstone Commission that the hostels should be fenced. "Yes, I can respond to that. The fact is that when I had visited a particular hostel somebody was killed on that very day. I actually saw the poor man who had been killed. The point I was making when I was arguing along those lines ." What specific lines? "That at a specific moment to save lives and property you take necessary action."
LW. You see when one was looking at the fencing in of hostels, you couldn't fence hostels in if you didn't have the support of communities as well as hostel dwellers and you needed a many negotiating CODESA at the time because and people were killed, as I point out there, and the lines I'm talking about the fact is that when somebody was killed I actually sort of - those lines that you needed to participate that, yes, they have to be but you can only fence them in if you have the support of all the communities involved because you had to fence them in to ensure that lives were protected. Either hostels would be used as launching pads or people would attack them, vice versa. There were instances where hostels had been demolished right to the ground so the conflict wasn't only coming from there and the hostilities were coming from all kinds of quarters.
POM. Here we have "Those were the accusations by nobody less than Chief Minister Buthelezi and I actually crossed swords with him on that issue in public."
LW. I think the issue was that he said he had not been consulted in the Record of Understanding and I had told him clearly at that stage and I had explained myself along those lines. That's why I say we had crossed swords. I had explained in public how he had been called on the telephone and that what I was about to agree to in the Record of Understanding was nothing different from what I had said when I appeared in front of the Goldstone Commission and that his lawyers, the Inkatha Freedom Party's lawyers, were in full support of what I was saying. They more or less had said, no, we understand what you're saying, it's not a punishment meted out against hostel dwellers who are favourably disposed towards Inkatha, it's a protection mechanism for everybody but it has to be implemented with the support of the communities.
POM. The community included the hostel dwellers themselves?
LW. Absolutely, absolutely.
POM. This I suppose raises the question: during the record of understanding which was between negotiations, which was between the ANC and the NP, was Buthelezi regularly kept informed?
LW. No. He was only consulted once on the telephone and that was once we had the final vision clear, at least on the hostel issue. I don't think Roelf spoke with him more than that one occasion because we spoke with him together. Roelf spoke with him, informed him about the outline and the progress, the developments and then Roelf said, "I'd like Leon to explain to you what is happening in terms of the hostels and I am handing over the telephone to him."
POM. I see here, "I think one cannot once again come to the conclusion that this is an ethnic thing." We're talking here about the "In Natal it is Zulus against Zulus, it has everything to do with the politics of the matter. That it has become pretty fierce is true. In the Transvaal the situation is different."
LW. Sure. That is what I said because I think that's what it is. I mean in KZN because Inkatha and the ANC were killing one another they both belonged to, I mean many of them display loyalty towards the King or not. Well they were Zulu speakers so they came from the same ethnic group whilst in Transvaal it was different, there were other nationalities also involved in here.
POM. I found that in dealing with people in the hostels they would always refer to members of the community supporting the ANC as Xhosa speaking people. They wouldn't say ANC people, but Xhosa speaking and Zulu speaking.
LW. That's true. That would be true at least here but that would not be true in Umlazi, for example, in Natal.
POM. We're actually beginning to move now. We're talking about the collapse of CODESA. "In retrospect do you think that the collapse of CODESA was inevitable?" was my question, and you say, "I still think it was unnecessary." And I say, "Unnecessary?" And you say, "To have CODESA collapse. I have an opinion on that but even a four year embargo shows how far we have come". This is in 1993, now it's the year 2000. "It is insufficient for me to express that opinion." I said, "How about now?" This being the year 2000 and this won't see the light of day for another two years.
LW. You know one speaks but time moves on so you begin to remember what you want to remember, but I guess what I had in mind there was that one must appreciate that at the time when CODESA collapsed that the NP found itself in a very difficult situation because it was at that moment that Gerrit Viljoen fell ill, it was more or less that moment that Barend du Plessis had retired and left politics. When difficulties arose later on in 1993 there was quite a strong relationship between Roelf and Cyril and they had managed to steer around those difficulties and maybe, had circumstances been different within the negotiating set up, so to speak, it could have ended differently. Be that as it may
POM. What you're really saying, if I'm not putting words into your mouth, is that Tertius Delport was a problem.
LW. No I'm still not saying that but what I'm definitely saying is that Tertius Delport was saddled with responsibility which was beyond, shall I say, his there was a moment when he was alone in that negotiating group if I remember correctly and that should not have been the case and he was alone because either Gerrit was ill or Roelf wasn't completely in charge and Barend had resigned and so on. That's the best I can do now.
POM. You said, "If we had the same spirit now", you were talking post the Record of Understanding, "If we had the same spirit now that exists at the World Trade Centre, CODESA 2 would not have collapsed."
LW. Yes, sure. That I believe. The spirit that existed was that was the spirit, and I kind of set it out in the Rimini speech how you negotiate, the spirit that existed was that the negotiators believed problems could be solved no matter how big they were, they could be solved, they could be understood, they trusted one another.
POM. That was the post-CODESA 2?
LW. That was the post-CODESA 2, that was almost post Record of Understanding spirit. People were open with one another, explaining the difficulties, knowing exactly what the bottom lines were, what was achievable, what was not achievable.
POM. Later you talk about, "Yes, I think the COSATU role has not been properly investigated, certainly not by the politicians in this country. For a long time I think that COSATU were the best negotiators, that's where Cyril Ramaphosa comes from." Do you mean, I just have a question here, "For a long time I thought that COSATU were the best negotiators." Just a language thing?
LW. Yes, absolutely.
POM. This is just language here. "Yes, the World Trade Centre negotiations must go on even in the absence of an IFP presence but then there really cannot be a final settlement if Buthelezi is not on board, that kind of thing." Do you want to read this? You get the hawks and doves.
LW. No, no. Well the point is that Buthelezi is playing the negotiating role better than anybody else has ever played it. Isn't it so? He's calling the President a colonialist and he sits in his cabinet. The most recent and the point is Buthelezi surprised us. What I had in mind there cannot be a final settlement if Buthelezi is not on board. Buthelezi has never agreed to a settlement but he is on board. In other words if you go to Buthelezi now and you interview Buthelezi he will tell you how dissatisfied he is with the powers of the provinces, he will tell you how dissatisfied he is with that understanding of international mediation on the problem, he will give you all his problems yet he's on board, he's participating and using the structures to advance his arguments so he is on board.
POM. Was he underestimated in that regard?
LW. I would not have predicted that. I would never have predicted that in the year 2000 the NP would be out of the government of national unity and Buthelezi would be in on a voluntary basis. I would not have predicted that.
POM. Still on occasion Acting President, or Jacob Zuma gets that now, well if the two of them are out of the country.
POM. "What the Conservative Party is telling us around the negotiating table are simply not the policies that they put forward at their rallies."
LW. That's right.
POM. What was the difference? What were they telling you at the negotiating table and what were they saying at their rallies?
LW. At their rallies they were all talking this volkstaat idea of Afrikaner self-determination, Afrikaner nation/state, everything, and yet at the negotiating table they were really looking at more or less what materialised. In effect what materialised was the idea of working towards an Afrikaner nation/state on a voluntary basis in terms of that particular section 235 on self-determination. So they were bargaining for less than that they were arguing for in public.
POM. But then they would go to Ulundi and any agreement they had made with you in negotiations would be abrogated.
LW. That was not the Conservative Party, that would be the Inkatha Party.
POM. Sorry, I'm jumping ahead of myself.
LW. What really was happening was that Inkatha would agree around the table and then their negotiators would often be overruled by their principals, be that Buthelezi or be that the Head Committee or others. In other words I don't think, I cannot recall, there may have been but I cannot recall moments when the NP or the ANC had agreed informally around the negotiating table and that those agreements would not be endorsed by leadership or by the principals. In other words the negotiators more or less always knew how far they could go and they knew what was exploratory and they knew what they were mandated to do so if they were overstepping the mark of their mandate they would say, well you know we're in uncharted waters now, I don't have a mandate to say this, and they would have their little buzz words "I'm putting forward a non-paper." In other words it's not an official document.
POM. Putting forward a non-paper?
LW. A non-paper. It's not an official document, it's just to explore and see how far we can push the boundaries and ANC members would say, well we don't think it will wash, we don't think it will carry the day but we will try. It sounds attractive but we don't believe it will work. So therefore whenever agreements weren't reached it never came as a surprise to us, contrary to Inkatha Freedom Party who when agreements weren't reached it often came as a surprise because we would depart in harmony and meet again in complete warlike situations, I mean completely unpredictable.
POM. And this was really because of the direct interference of they going back to Ulundi and Buthelezi putting his - ?
LW. That's right, withdrawing his negotiating team or rapping them over the knuckles or whatnot.
POM. "I was deeply involved in the Record of Understanding and even as I look back on it now I see that much clearer than I did at the time, the significance of the Record of Understanding." In what way looking back do you see it as being significant?
LW. Well I think it was a turning point because it really moved the process forward. People who had agreed to the Record of Understanding were not arguing about process any longer. As of then they were talking substance.
POM. But did it also bring about a change in the relationship between the ANC and the NP?
LW. Yes, they were much closer to one another I would say and it brought a difference between ourselves and Inkatha so we could focus on the substance of the issues. Much to our surprise Inkatha is still there.
POM. There was one issue that arose there and that was the release of the prisoners, where at the very last moment Mandela insisted that the release of prisoners begin before the agreement was actually signed and that Robert McBride be included and in the end De Klerk agreed.
LW. I have a recollection of that but I really don't have the hands on, first hand experience of that. It happened very much against De Klerk's wishes. He said that in his book, I think he says that in his book.
POM. He did yes. But his colleagues said go ahead and do it.
LW. You don't have a chance. Yes.
POM. Two things strike me, some people have said to me that's the moment when Mandela established psychological ascendancy over De Klerk. He pushed him to the brink on an issue and said, "Unless you give in on this I'm not going to sign the agreement tomorrow." On the other hand it has struck me that on Mandela's party, for him to risk an entire agreement that has been reached on the basis of 'if I don't get my way on this one detail I'm going to walk', that it wasn't very good negotiation on his part, that it was the very opposite, it was very high risk.
LW. Yes. We're interpreting very much now. You would not have asked me those questions at the time.
POM. Of course not!
LW. Because you didn't have those insights and you've been thinking about that since then and I'm trying to forget all of that. Now the point is what I recall about that thing and about that day was that Mandela was in command of a lot of detail and I remember how De Klerk just wanted to read and agree quickly, quickly and it was not to be. I guess there were also a lot of behind, as they say in football, a lot of off the ball incidents that played their role.
POM. So if you say 'off the ball'?
LW. Side issues, off the ball means a side issue, side issues between De Klerk in other words it would be fair to say that I think already at that stage it was clear the chemistry between the two wasn't working.
POM. But you give the impression that De Klerk was more anxious just to get on with things than
LW. That is a clear impression I have of that day, of a particular incident that day when De Klerk was ready to move on and Mandela said, "No, let's stop, let's pause here."
POM. OK. "President de Klerk opening the door for a two step approach through a transitional phase and a final phase." When did President de Klerk put his two phase process on the table?
LW. Did he not put it on the table in December 1991 already with that speech he made?
POM. This was the speech at CODESA?
LW. CODESA 1.
POM. This was where he suggested there be an interim government and then
LW. That's right.
LW. You see that was the idea of the two phase process. I would like to believe it came into thinking or into the realm of the debate around the period De Klerk launched it because the minute De Klerk made that speech one has to go back to that speech to see he clearly took some form of an initiative because the ANC then stopped. He more or less introduced a long interim process, that's the way I recall it, and it was part of the problems that went on in that period and when the Record of Understanding came about things were quite clear. It was going to be a two phase process, negotiations, principles, principles, election, election, constitution making based on those principles and all those things about process were then put behind us. We then had to deal the only thing that was outstanding at one of the first meetings in 1993 was an election date and once the election date was set we began to focus on issues, constitutional issues, transitional issues and not this thing about process, process, process any longer.
POM. Did De Klerk take the ANC by surprise?
LW. He did.
POM. I ask that in the context of the ANC's insistence that the NP always had a dual strategy. On the one hand talk to them, on the other hand have this third force trying to weaken them, destroy them in the townships but yet here was De Klerk I want to destroy people who would be part of my own
LW. Yes I know, that was rubbish. I'm not saying there wasn't a third force and I'm not saying that there weren't people but it wasn't part of the NP thinking and it wasn't part of De Klerk's thinking.
POM. There was no dual strategy?
LW. No there wasn't, definitely not.
POM. And yet to this day the ANC adhere to that as passionately as they did.
LW. Yes but you see I'm sure they're entitled to do that because all those terrible things did happen. People were killed, there were third force activities. That's not an issue any longer, people do know that but I still maintain it was not the NP's policy and I still maintain it was not a policy developed and implemented by FW De Klerk.
POM. This is on the Zulu King. "I'm told that the Zulu King is very restless, he's very uncomfortable because Buthelezi is hijacking him. The information that we have is that he who pays the piper calls the tune and we have even had advice from people saying you should not allow the KwaZulu Administration to pay the King's salary and his perks because that's why he's playing these tunes and that he's pretty unhappy about the situation." The KwaZulu government out of their budget would pay the budget for the King and the maintenance of the King. They would also pay the Chiefs and for the maintenance of the Chiefs.
LW. Certainly at that time.
POM. At that time. So that allowed them in a way to keep the Chiefs and the King in their pocket.
LW. That's it.
POM. And the King was unhappy. Somebody was saying the way to get the King out of his straitjacket is to take away that.
LW. That's it.
POM. And move to central government.
LW. That's it.
POM. This is talking about Buthelezi, "I take it you have spoken to people like Oscar Dhlomo on Buthelezi - and also listened to him. He would give you a different version to what one sometimes reads in the press." What version?
LW. Well he was not very sympathetic towards Buthelezi and he was portraying a figure who was very authoritarian in his approach, who didn't really tolerate opposition. That was what he was saying and I think it's been amplified by others since then, the Felgates.
POM. You said, "But something has changed. Maybe you would not have picked it up, but in the Transvaal the Afrikaans newspaper, Beeld, has written very, very critical articles about Buthelezi. They have had very critical cartoons about him which simply is not what Afrikaans newspapers would have done, say, 12 or 18 months ago." Why the change, what happened to make that change?
LW. I think they were getting fed up with Buthelezi. They were thinking that he was playing games, he wasn't really committed towards the negotiating process. The one thing that we will run through now as we go along is how come Buthelezi objected to all of this so vehemently then and he's still in the process. He got nothing out of it. He is a minister based on what? There is not an agreement, there's nothing, it's just a voluntary appointment and he is right in the thick of things. I have no explanation for that. Buthelezi, no I have nothing new to add.
POM. Then you talk about constructive filibustering was their official policy. "It was written in documents handed out at the World Trade Centre in speeches written by nobody less than Professor Ngubane of UCT." After one speech, I don't know whether you can remember what speech she was referring to but it's not important, she was asked: is this the official policy of the KwaZulu government? And she said yes. In public and against the background of constructive filibustering they followed one line and behind closed doors they followed another line, made agreements that 'we will be back in two weeks, don't worry'. This was a put up job?
POM. A put up job for what purpose?
LW. Well they would have a Head Committee meeting and it was a put up job in the sense they were walking out, they were fighting, they were arguing, they were filibustering, they were doing everything and saying to their Head Committee, their principals, their Chiefs, "Listen guys we are putting up this fantastic fight for you", and they would say to us, "Don't worry, nothing serious, we will be back in two weeks", and then they wouldn't get the mandate.
POM. "Leaving aside there is obviously nobody of the stature of Mandela. Ten years, people say why so long or not so short for that matter? Ten years is not a well-considered time scale. Nevertheless during the next decade we will see some realignments because there are many people who are not together who should be together."
LW. Just look at the weather. I'm not sure in what context I was talking, but just look at the politics of the day. I am told that, I was in Israel this week, and COSATU has severely criticised Mbeki this week.
POM. Very. To give you the short version, it was like a bizarre countermine you had speaker after speaker criticise him on AIDS, criticise him on GEAR, say that they would have quarterly strikes if any attempt was made to amend the labour laws and then they all rallied around and said of course they would support the ANC at the local elections in November.
LW. Well look at that, that sits with that and you look at where the NP is, it's all over the show, it's non-existent.
POM. Do you think, this is again different, do you think that you have this kind of almost guessing game going on: will the alliance stick together for another decade because in the end it's more convenient for all parties concerned to do so than to split where they dissipate their power?
LW. I don't know about that but I do know that I would not have predicted that the NP, when we had that interview, would not exist in the year 2000 and be swallowed by the Democratic Party and the DP would be the only force to be reckoned with. I would not have predicted that.
POM. But when you were referring to unnatural alliances you were referring to?
LW. Across the board. I mean there are Pik Botha and Chris Fismer sitting pretty tight in the ANC. They would have disputed that vehemently if you had interviewed them then and yet they are closer to the ANC than yes, even then than they were to the DP at that stage. So when you look at the ANC ten years down the line that's a different guess altogether but these tensions will continue. If Thabo continues to govern the way he is governing it will not alleviate those tensions, it will aggravate them.
POM. That's an understatement.
POM. The TRC was on the preamble to the interim constitution.
LW. Interim constitution, it was actually the postscript, it was right at the end.
POM. It was post.
POM. Do you call it a post-amble?
LW. I call it a postscript.
POM. Then the publisher of your book was ATTAGGEK?
LW. No. How do you get to ATT?
POM. I can't understand my own handwriting, that's the problem I think.
LW. It is a Naspers publication and how come I can't remember the name of the publishers. It's definitely not that.
POM. Do people still think of this economy as 'your' economy, and I've got 'white' and 'we' are not part of the economy, 'we' being black.
LW. That's right.
POM. This is language again. This may not be familiar oh yes, "People may not be familiar with the substance of the RDP but if the RDP does not deliver what it promises to that could have very adverse effects."
POM. At that point what were you talking about in terms of it having very adverse effects since the RDP has not delivered?
LW. Well it simply means what it means. If you don't give the expectations for a better life, better quality of life, job creation, better schools, better housing, socio-economic facilities
POM. There will be no improvements in people's lives but it doesn't mean that the people will therefore turn and vote against the ANC?
LW. Not necessarily. Well the point is we must look at it in the context of the interview and not of now. What one would say now is that if you don't that's the first thing people tear up if democratic processes don't deliver, they tear up the constitution, they lose hope. We've managed to vote twice now but it's meant nothing in terms of education, the education of our children, health, etc., etc.
POM. Didn't you bring out a report last week that says the level of primary health care had gone down?
LW. Yes that is correct.
POM. I must get that. "I would say it was more a question of finalising the counting (this is on the election) process according to what people had more or less estimated their support base to be rather than a question of ensuring stability. We felt the importance of stability was of far more concern when people were suggesting postponing the election date." I am saying but wouldn't it also have been a question of stability?
LW. You're right.
POM. I suppose the point I was trying to get at then was that the count was slowly creeping up to a point of where it looked as though the ANC might receive more than two thirds of the vote and therefore would have been in a position to write the final constitution and that would have been a source of instability particularly with the delays in the counts and things like that. So was that not of concern to the NP?
LW. I don't believe so. It was more a question of finalising the counting process to what people had more or less estimated rather than a question of ensuring stability. Yes, stability in the context that you've just mentioned now. We felt our stability was of far more concern when people were suggesting postponing the election date. Now that was serious in other words if you had to postpone the election date and say, well negotiations are not concluded now and in time and let's wait another year, that would have been bad.
POM. But if you also had a situation where you had an electoral count that gave the ANC more than two thirds of the vote would that not have also posed a problem?
LW. Not if that is what they got but
POM. But everyone would have disputed that that's what they got because the count, by everybody's admission, was in a shambles. It had been stopped, it had been delayed, boxes had been lost.
LW. It wasn't that important. What was important was that the matter had to be finalised and it had to be finalised more or less as people felt was fair given the trends and the fact that the ANC was going to get more than two thirds was not, I don't think that was a concern. The way I understand your question the fact is all along if you how do I understand your question? I understand your question to say that if the ANC was going to get two thirds
POM. First of all the counting process wasn't going well, it was in a shambles by everyone's admission. Slowly the ANC, in a count that everyone regards as a shambles, is creeping towards getting two thirds of the vote which would have allowed them to single-handedly write the new constitution. They wouldn't have had to make any bargains, any allies, any anything. That certainly would have been a cause of great concern to the NP.
LW. It definitely was not a concern to me because I knew exactly what we were doing when we were saying two thirds majority was needed and we were arguing at the time if the NP and all the other parties together can't prevent a two thirds majority then they do not deserve to have that particular leverage over the constitution.
POM. But assuming that everyone agreed that the count was free and fair, but everyone didn't agree that the count they agreed the election was free but they didn't agree that the count was fair. Votes got lost all over the place.
LW. So who was arguing in favour of what? The ANC was pleased with the majority they got and the Nats know they didn't deserve more, so who was complaining?
POM. Well I don't know, a lot of people said they were complaining, the Nats.
LW. The Nats? Well the Nats who were complaining were the ones who weren't in the voting stations. They are the ones who were saying we were going to get X percentages but they weren't there when the votes of Kagiso, Munsieville and other townships were counted and they just don't know how poorly they performed in those townships.
POM. OK. Here we were talking about spying. You said, "I am a great believer in talking, explaining, but you cannot allow these things to have taken place and pass on unnoticed as if they never happened. And I certainly don't have a vindictive spirit about this but I have all the reason to believe that I was spied on." When you were in government? By whom?
LW. I'm not sure of the context. I understand what you're saying and I think I explained it now as I explained it previously. If PW calls you and he says, "I'm informed", who informed him? This is just a crisp, blunt answer to that but there's a lot of little things attached to it and PW stated in public that they never spied on any members of parliament, but if MPs would be in telephonic conversations with subjects or objects intelligence agencies are scrutinising then it's like an add-on to the list, Wessels or Malan or Wynand Malan would be in contact with A, B and C. They never spied on Wessels and Malan, they would argue, but they would know exactly what Wessels and Malan were saying to A, B and C. And if PW then at the end comes around and says, "I hear this, I'm informed about this, I'm told this", where did he hear that? He had it through not merely the grapevine.
POM. This is a technical question. "Why should I speak to Lewis?" you were saying, "Where does he come from? He wasn't on the voter's roll."
LW. Krugersdorp voters' roll.
POM. But yet he could stand in Krugersdorp even though he wasn't on the roll?
LW. Yes he could.
POM. Because of the system?
LW. It's just the system. You had to be a resident in a constituency to be on the voters' roll. You had to own property in that constituency but that does not prevent you from standing as a candidate. To be a candidate you must be a white South African citizen, eligible to hold public office.
POM. This is a thing that I also remember, half picked up, was that you talked about your first meeting with Chris Hani and the circumstances of that. As I recall, I don't recall it fully, is that you both had been invited to dinner and you got lost and you saw a car approaching you and you hailed it down and it turned out to be Chris Hani was the driver of the car.
LW. No I didn't stop the car. When I stopped the car I knew Chris Hani was in the car because we had stopped together at a robot right next to one another and as I looked I noticed that he was in the car and then we decided, I stopped and we spoke.
POM. This goes back to, and it's when you talked about Swanieville, about the involvement of policemen in violence in the whole Vaal Triangle in 1991 or their working with the IFP.
LW. OK. Swanieville is not in the Vaal Triangle, it's in Krugersdorp.
POM. That's my geography. But my question was that you believed that the allegations being made by the ANC at the time that the police were working with the IFP and the attacks on
LW. I tell you, let me put it to you differently, I haven't heard a convincing argument that the police were not involved. I mean they were always absent and always at different places except the places where they were supposed to be. I just don't understand their explanations, how that could have happened right under their noses.
POM. But you talked about Swanieville in particular, that you had gone there and that you had some of the old policemen that you knew from Kagiso and the townships around Krugersdorp would ring you and tell you.
LW. Certainly inhabitants would ring me and members of those communities would ring me and tell me and say, well we don't understand what's happening here. The people who are causing all this trouble are complete strangers to us, we don't know them, we've never seen them before. And the police would be charged with the responsibility to patrol specific routes with their Casspirs and when the invasion to Swanieville took place they were not nearly on the route, they were kilometres away from that route, almost as if they were turning a blind eye. That's what all the allegations mount up to. How was it possible that such a large number of people could have moved from the hostel towards Swanieville, commit all those atrocities there and walk back, disperse and all of this happen right under the noses of the police and they were not aware of it. I have not received a plausible explanation for that.
POM. You reported this, I think you said, on one occasion. On driving back from Swanieville you rang Pretoria and demanded to see
LW. No, no, that was another occasion but where I did exactly what you now tell. That was an event in Kagiso where I actually had a discussion with Frank Chikane and called my office and said I want a meeting with De Klerk to explain to him that something very, very strange is happening and I have innocent outsiders who are giving me the following picture of what is happening. And that I did tell him and he was going to meet Mandela on this topic and I said, "You have to be very alive to all these issues and not just swallow each and every statement made to you by security forces because my outside information volunteered to me by individuals who live there paint a very grim picture." That I definitely told him.
POM. But he more or less ignored you?
LW. I wouldn't say ignored. If I argue now from his position, if I try and explain his position I guess his position would almost be how do I, FW De Klerk, determine what is fact and what is fiction here? Wessels and his sources tell me one thing, the police and their sources tell me another thing. And that's how, I would guess, the Goldstone Commission got involved in all of this and where they made their findings.
POM. We're nearly there, nearly finished. I know you're tired. I can see it. Bear with me. This is the picture, I am not sure about it. You say, "I know people in the ANC, very important people, who have come into this office and have seen that picture (that's the one of Mandela and yourself taken in Oslo at the Hate Conference) and say it's a terrible mistake." Maybe if you just read the sentence, it might make more sense if you see the context of it.
LW. It is the Mandela picture and it's that picture and the stories they tell me, the wonderful stories they tell me are the stories how they responded when they heard me make those things. For example, saying when I read that newspaper I said to myself (this is now an ANC person speaking) I said to myself, if somebody in the NP could make that statement something must be happening in those circles. That more or less is the theme, and I want you to know, Leon Wessels, that when I saw that I began to take you seriously and I began to take the NP seriously. That's what I'm trying to say.
POM. So people from the ANC would come in and see the picture and would have heard your remarks or would have read what you had said in Oslo and would say now we will take you a little bit more seriously than we have before.
LW. Absolutely. Something must have happened because you guys are really changing.
POM. I have a note here that this is where you called apartheid a terrible mistake. You were criticised when you came back by members of your own party but you repeated the speech in parliament at which point it made headlines and that's where Mac and Ronnie Kasrils who were then in the underground began to believe that the government might be serious about negotiations.
LW. That's what they told me.
POM. Dirk du Toit.
LW. I remember Dirk du Toit was a member of yes he was a backbencher. I never met the man, no, no, he was I'm not sure, when I say I never met the man, of course I met him, he was in parliament. I don't think that is correct. I never met the man nor did I know if he's I would have liked to phrase it differently. Dirk du Toit was a backbencher. You can just put it that Dirk du Toit was a backbencher at that moment in the ANC. He was a backbencher in the ANC and, as I say there, I never met the man, I guess it doesn't reflect correctly. We hadn't really sat and met to discuss these issues because I knew him of course, he was an MP like myself but he was not an ANC frontline negotiator at that stage and therefore I don't believe that you could attribute his derogatory statements to the ANC who were sitting around the negotiating table with us. I don't think the ANC at that stage took him seriously themselves. When you look at the way the ANC conduct their business, they don't include Du Toit in all their very important excursions or bilaterals, they certainly did not. For example, Dirk du Toit did not accompany the ANC delegation to Germany or to India or to any of the other places that I have been a part of. I don't think he reflects the spirit of inclusivity which Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa have announced in public. That's correct. And of course one must understand the ANC carries, that was at that stage, 60% support with it and that it has to be reflected in the constitution, but 60% does not mean 100%, therefore they are still sensitive to the suggestions and proposals from other parties which also includes the ANC. He was a backbencher. Du Toit was a former academic from the University of Bloemfontein, the Free State, but was a backbencher at that stage.
POM. "I lacked courage to shout from the rooftops. I have to confess that I only whispered in the corridors. It was foreseen that under those circumstances - "
LW. Those are the circumstances where people were subjected to the SA security laws. Yes, it was foreseen that or it must have been foreseen that under those circumstances where we had very tight security legislation that people would be detained, people would be tortured. Everybody in the country knew people were tortured. That was a matter of public record really because Steve Biko had died because of torture and others had said that in public but we still believed that, I don't know what we believed, when I say we believe and I don't know what we believe, we kind of believed that these were like isolated incidents and were bad apples, whatever.
POM. And this paragraph here, my own reference is page 172. Do you know what you were referring to there?
LW. Well the best thing to explain that is what I really said at the TRC at the time, there it goes, the way Steve Biko was killed in 1977, the official explanations, the inquest and the stories and the rumours and Dulcie September was killed, Webster was killed and there were so many stories. Those incidents caused discomfort in official circles and you had your doubts about the explanations but, as I said, you either didn't have the facts to substantiate the suspicions or you didn't have the courage to jump from the rooftops.
POM. When you say 'jump from the rooftops' you don't mean ?
LW. I mean shout.
POM. You mean shout.
LW. Shout from the rooftops.
POM. "For many years I had my doubts about the Steve Biko case, there were cynical questions." Those, which ones are your referring to? Then you go on to say -
LW. Well are we talking about Steve Biko now, the Steve Biko case? Steve Biko, there was an inquest as you know and the inquest said that there wasn't sufficient malice attributed to an individual to prosecute an individual. So you would ask all those questions to whoever you were debating with. It could be police officers, it could be NP discussion groups, caucuses and say, well this man died but how is it possible and he didn't die a natural death. Now how come, surely the process, there must be something wrong in the process. Those were the things which I and others had raised at various times. I think we've got it a little bit all wrong now. For many years, ten or twelve at least, I had my doubts about the Steve Biko case but what was there to say over and above the official inquest? The responses, political, cynical questions you would ask, the little statements you would make in the corridors of power, so to speak. Those were the things, those questions, which I had raised at various times during the states of emergency. People were detained for 18 months and there was this uncomfortability, you would ask the question how come somebody detained for 18 months and is not brought to trial or is not released, and so on. All of that recalls 'those', namely the questions.
POM. But you had asked those questions of whom? Another colleague?
LW. They would be ongoing, you would meet police officers informally, formally; you would meet colleagues formally, informally; you would meet people and then there is the PW one. Well I simply don't believe anybody has that defence and those who didn't have suspicions were half asleep on their jobs. When PW attacked now you see I made that statement at the TRC when PW attacked me and he did attack me and say why had I not raised it.
POM. Raised it with?
POM. Him, OK.
LW. I then said it just proves how isolated he had been at the time. But the fact is that I explained that somewhere where I said that I had raised it with PW. For example, I had mentioned that specific case where somebody had been detained for 18 months. I think I made that statement in another publication speech, whatever, where I said this gentleman had been detained for 18 months. Had he been charged and found guilty he would never have been asked to stay in prison for 18 months and PW's response to me was, well we had achieved nothing with these detentions, we had achieved nothing. So he was fully aware I had made a specific statement to him based on that specific case of somebody detained for 18 months and he was very sad, and I must tell you, he was very sad because he said, "I knew that all along, I knew that we were not achieving anything with these detentions except to make people very bitter."
POM. "I made a speech in caucus in 1986 where I said 'somebody is hurting our people'." Our people being?
LW. Well at that stage our people were already, in my vocabulary, South Africans regardless of colour.
POM. Here you say, "There were thousands who were detained." He said "We have achieved nothing except making people bitter." And you say, "Bitter, the system mobilising against PW and the NP. He was very sympathetic about my attempts."
LW. Attempts to get a dialogue going between people from opposing groups and opposing factions?
POM. Clearly he didn't know how to deal with it.
LW. Exactly. He didn't know how to deal with it because the message was sound and clear. Tutu's point of view was, listen, you are not going to negotiate with a second team. The first team is either in exile or in prison and I, Tutu, am not a political leader so I am not negotiating with you and nobody else is going to negotiate with you. The A team are locked up or they are abroad, they're the political leaders of this country, those are the ones you have to negotiate with.
POM. And he couldn't see his way to - ?
LW. He couldn't. He was really battling, he was rally grappling. He just wanted Mandela to say, 'I relinquish violence and now embrace negotiations.' And Mandela couldn't say that for various reasons and De Klerk didn't expect Mandela to say that, he just released him and expected him to deliver peace. That's how that march started in September 1989, the Cape Town march. That was De Klerk's thinking, he didn't demand of people a public statement of denouncing violence, he just through various actions expected of the organisers to take responsibility for the march and that was more or less his thinking on Mandela's release as well. That's how he overcame that hurdle of Mandela not relinquishing violence, the other obstacle which PW couldn't overcome.
POM. This is a judge you mention here, "He gave a fantastic explanation."
LW. That is Mohammed.
POM. What explanation did he give if you can summarise it or do I have to find the judgment or is it in - ?
LW. He was really explaining how would one get, as he put it, move from the shame of the past to the hope of the future. What would be the bridge to move from this one world, the shame of the past, to the hope of the future and the bridge would be the amnesty process but it would be an amnesty, not a priceless amnesty process, it would be an amnesty process where you had to expose yourself and expose the truth and once you've done that you would obtain amnesty. That in itself was a form of justice and it was in service of the peace and reconciliation process.
POM. I think we're almost there, believe it or not. I have a question here, that if you kept bringing things to the attention of PW and FW and you were getting unsatisfactory explanations why didn't you just say I resign?
LW. Because the responses weren't unsatisfactory. First of all FW did make a 2nd of February speech, did he not, and there was a democratic election in April 1994 and there was a new constitution signed, agreed to in 1996. There was always movement, always. Even in the Rubicon speech there was movement because it was on the basis of the Rubicon speech and subsequent speeches that FW justified his actions, so there was always movement.
POM. Somebody said, this is the same speech, and it got lost in the rumble, ended up caught in the Rubicon, but in that speech he said that all South Africans were citizens of SA.
LW. That is something that you and I spoke about. I'm not sure that he said it in that speech, he said it in a subsequent speech but there was progress in the Rubicon speech.
POM. "Sheer powerlessness, she said in response to evidence in front of the TRC, she said about me that she was terribly disappointed because she expected more of me in my submission." What did she expect?
LW. Expected me to make a lot of disclosures which I simply couldn't because I didn't have it. I didn't know, for example, of all the discussions PW and Vlok and Van der Merwe had about the blowing up of Khotso House, I didn't know that. Nobody has ever hinted that I knew and even in the amnesty application which calls on them to testify to the whole truth and nothing but the truth, they clearly portray a picture, paint a picture of discussions between the three of them, so how could I disclose what happened in Khotso House if I wasn't part of the discussion which the three of them had. And that goes for a number of other meetings, some of the applications that Johan van der Merwe is involved in, I simply didn't know what Van der Merwe was talking about when he was talking to junior officers and cover-ups and things like that so I could not disclose that. But the point I think, she was very sympathetic, she was sympathetic and she was not in a quarrelsome mood when she made that statement but my statement that I don't believe we have the defence of saying we didn't know, she thought I should have taken further but I didn't know. I didn't know then and I don't know now how to take it further because I was not party to those discussions. Matthew Goniwe's killing, I met his wife the other day, the late Matthew Goniwe, and I just don't I was not a party to the discussions of excommunicating him. I never sat in any meeting where it was decided, I'm not sure, to remove him from the community. So I cannot explain how those words, how and why they were couched in those terms and I was not in a meeting where it was decided, for that matter, to interpret those words as to mean 'kill Matthew Goniwe'. It wasn't possible for me to take it further, to set booby traps not booby traps, booby hand grenades, to let them loose amongst children or to distribute them amongst children, I was never a party to that so I could not explain how that came about. I think that was why she was saying she had expected more. We had a great discussion and I explained this to her.
. But, let me tell you something which is uncalled for now. That speech referring to the anatomy of hate and this one had gone further than I had expected when I made it. Let me tell you, that TRC speech is going much further than I had expected it and it's gone into George Bizos' book, it's gone into Desmond Tutu's book, it's gone into Piet Meiring's book and it went into Antjie Krog's speech to my surprise, I'm not sure whether you picked that up. I was the only one mentioned by Antjie Krog in that speech and I didn't know she was going to mention it and I had not read that speech and I was not concentrating 100% when I just heard my name mentioned and it was mentioned in the context of the TRC speech. That speech is going further than I had expected.
POM. It is. Which means that if FW had taken the opportunity, a final appearance, to say on behalf of all previous governments I apologise for the wrongs we have done
LW. Yes, he could have couched it in very simple words as Desmond had hinted and suggested. He could have made an incredible gesture. Bizos in effect has said that if De Klerk had taken my line the reconciliation process would have been much further. Now I do take Bizos fairly seriously when he speaks on these matters for reasons that I don't have to explain.
POM. Why do you think, this is different, why do you think De Klerk couldn't make that he says, "Releasing Mandela was part of a spiritual leap", and yet when it came to making the second spiritual leap he couldn't do it?
LW. I think there are different explanations for these two things. It's funny, I have never thought of it along those lines but De Klerk couldn't make that speech at the time it was made, a terrible mistake, speech, because he felt, that's how he explains it, that he would be repudiating his father who had served in Verwoerd's cabinet and things like that and he couldn't repudiate history like that. But De Klerk as far as that speech is concerned, that speech now being and I will explain that speech to you, that is the TRC speech, so to speak. He couldn't make the TRC speech because he was firmly of the view that those who had committed human rights violations and atrocities should be brought to book whoever they were. He never said it like I am saying it now, be they police officers, junior, senior. I think in my heart of hearts he also thought cabinet ministers, I think so. He is so convinced of his own innocence in that respect that he couldn't take on board, shall I say, the actions and the misdeeds and misdemeanours of security colleagues and senior police and army officers. I think that's why he just couldn't make that. He does not feel any remorse about the fact that he was a very senior member outside of cabinet, yes he wasn't in cabinet, he was the Chief Information Officer of the NP at the time when Steve Biko was killed and he just didn't feel a part of that. Whilst I am saying whether we like it or not the NP was governing, we were a part of the NP, we had said all along the NP is in charge and in control and therefore we dismiss all allegations, all arguments that the security forces are a law unto themselves. Now that these terrible things have happened we suddenly say, no the security forces were a law unto themselves, we don't own up for their misdeeds. Albeit that I am not guilty and I will not be found guilty in a criminal court having been a party to Steve Biko's murder, it still was my party who was involved and was responsible for the government.
POM. The structures.
LW. Exactly, as I said, we put the security laws on the statute book and there were consequences to those security laws. We knew in terms of those security law structures people were going to be detained and we took the risk that they would be taken care of whilst in detention. Now how can we now when events prove that they were not well taken care of whilst in detention, how can we now say, well we're not a party to that. The security forces, they did it all on their own. They were a law unto themselves but at the time we were disputing that they were a law unto themselves. Yes, the security laws were harsh but that was what the times dictated to us and those are the kind of issues that I grapple with and which De Klerk and I don't see the same way. I'll tell you that story once the interview is over.
POM. That's the name of the full university? The University of the North, Turfloop?
LW. University of the North, Turfloop, yes, that's right. That is the way you spell it.
POM. "I guess that is kind of the second threat."
LW. Can I read that because I don't understand it?
POM. We were here about a speech that Mandela made at Mafikeng at their 50th Congress in 1997 in which he bashed everyone.
LW. I don't understand that fully.
POM. There we are. Thank you.
LW. Is that it? OK, you can switch that off if you want to.
. Let me tell you quickly, this thing, it's not a big story, transcending history of injustice, blah, blah, blah. The whole history, this is the Anglo Boer War, when was that?
POM. 1886. That would have been about the time of the establishment of Transvaal?
LW. Could have been. I think it was already a form of people being pushed around, I think that's what it's depicting, people being pushed off land and so on, the Anglo Boer War, first Land Acts, migration of labour, history of the mineworkers white rebellion, second World War, black carriers, SWAPO, small apartheid, forced removals, the toilets, blah, blah, blah, that is also forced removals, Hector Petersen, the eighties. Nonetheless I made a little speech and it was quite an event and these were the people who organised it when they gave me this and said I want you all to sign. That is Goniwe's wife who was the first to sign, and I'm taking this home.
. When I see my colleagues now, I am still mad with them, the Nats I'm talking about. You see, not only did they not flinch when they should have at the TRC hearings, they are not even flinching now. They don't sit around, they don't talk, they don't explain, they don't engage. I had nothing to do with Matthew Goniwe. I wasn't near the decision making processes so who's the one that she's meeting? She meets me. I'm the perpetrator, I have to engage and explain what happened, why her husband was killed, and I find it difficult, I get mad. Where is De Klerk? Where is PW? Where are all those guys who were there at the time? I think she understands me in the sense that she understands my TRC speech and, yes, there's a wonderful relationship coming between me and her and people of those years and times and so on.
POM. Do you have a copy of your TRC speech? Is it reproduced in the TRC report?