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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

11 Sep 2001: Van Zyl Slabbert, Frederik

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POM     As I had talked to you about AIDS, when I saw that story yesterday in Business Day I was flabbergasted.

VZS     The latest thing, questioning the statistics.

POM     Using 1995 WHO statistics to set the social priorities for the country, but AIDS wasn't really registering on the map, it was only a very small thing at that point. Since that time it has taken off. I mean I don't get it, what is the man out to prove?

VZS     Well I must tell you, I find it extremely difficult to understand and one is reduced to actually some explanations that make you feel uncomfortable. Is there a sense of anger that AIDS is so prevalent in Africa and therefore it's directly a way of saying Africans are immoral and can't look after themselves? You get reduced to ridiculous things like that because he keeps on coming back and saying that AIDS is part of a general condition of poverty, of deprivation and it's only symptomatic of a situation that needs far wider action than simply treating the symptoms. That's the basic argument. Now even if that is so the response would be, hell, throw everything you've got at combating this disease.

POM     You have a state of emergency here.

VZS     You've got a state of emergency so get going and tackle it and do whatever you can. Nobody is saying you shouldn't address the problems of poverty but in the meantime there are things that you can do to alleviate the suffering of a hell of a lot of people and especially, I think, the question of AIDS orphans. I mean I listened to Ken Owen the other day, he's just saying he's come through the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and there are just kids there with no parents, small kids, and they're living in very inadequate hostels and boarding houses and what have you. Now why can't the state do something there? I don't know. I must say I am as confused as you are.

POM     Does business take it seriously?

VZS     Oh yes.

POM     Derek Keys said to me on one occasion, this year in fact, "Well large corporations it's not going to affect very much. They have plans worked out. It might get 5% of their people or whatever." He was rather dismissive of the impact on the economy.

VZS     Yes, well, if you talk to somebody like Clem Sunter, Clem certainly won't be dismissive.

POM     I am going to see him.

VZS     He will tell you that it's going to have a huge impact, particularly in the mining industry, and he certainly is very concerned and I've had a proposal this morning for making a movie to create AIDS awareness, people looking for money. So I'm trying to figure out how the hell you get money for this kind of thing. Generally speaking, I know it sounds terrible to put it that way, but there is one hell of a donor fatigue running through the business community.

POM     On everything.

VZS     Yes, Business Trust, Business Against Crime, Black Empowerment, the Mandela Fund, the Mandela Children's Fund, you name it they've been touched. They've been touched and hit, they're staggering around and they just now say there's nothing more we can do about it. There is that attitude. But it's not one of total indifference, it's just, hell, what else must I do? But if you don't have a co-ordinated and well-planned campaign from government, which is usually what business will respond to, they're just going to say, "Well if you don't care why the hell should I care?"

POM     You must have see those billboards that pass as advertisements to make people aware of AIDS. $100 million was spent on that campaign. No-one understands them.

VZS     That's right. A million dollars you say?

POM     A hundred million was put up I'm pretty sure unless I've got my figures wrong. It's an ad agency here that got a grant from the Mott Foundation. Maybe I got the figure wrong but –

VZS     I don't know, it's a hell of a lot of money.

POM     I know that the ads mean – I've asked, anybody that I've asked, "What do you think that says?" nobody has any idea and if you go out into places like the townships there are none out there at all. Well it wouldn't make any difference. I don't get it.

     The Department of Finance commissioned studies -

VZS     This was a workshop I attended with the Pretoria University. Although these are very well known authorities on AIDS, Reuben Sher –

POM     These are? They are? I'd like to get in touch with them because I'm doing a separate project on –

VZS     This guy you must talk to.

POM     - on AIDS where I have –

VZS     Why don't you just take this with you. Dr …

POM     Is he listed there, at a university here?

VZS     He's at Wits University.

POM     I was saying, did you have any knowledge that the Department of Finance about 15, 16 months ago commissioned eight studies, very detailed studies on the impact of AIDS on the economy, on different sectors, on government expenditures, on revenues.

VZS     This is our in-house –

POM     I'm saying that because I had somebody who is a sub-contractor for AID make an enquiry and he was told that most of the studies were completed but they were confidential.

VZS     I'm shocked at Mbeki's position.

POM     It's contrary to everything.

VZS     What is the status of these dissidents in the whole debate?

POM     The story yesterday appeared to me to be a frontal attack. The BBC interview committed – it did two things for the country. One, it said "You're right. It's a very dangerous place to live in South Africa",  which doesn't help foreign investment. And two, by down-grading AIDS where the rest of the world thinks he's absolutely wrong in the position, he damaged himself further and that kind of story yesterday will have people in Washington and London and wherever kind of just shaking their heads and it's the image that sticks of what's with this man.

VZS     I can't argue with you. I've always maintained even if there was some kind of intellectual validity to the dispute then that is not the job of a President of the country to pretend that you can settle an intellectual dispute. You've got an epidemic on your hands and whether you want to call it AIDS or whatever but you're in a state of crisis here.

POM     Cemeteries are closing. I've gone out and I've enquired. I went out to Alex to a cemetery there because I know someone who has a very deep interest in it because people used to be buried in garbage and so he got the cemetery renovated and he said, "We've no more room." And Mbeki is saying people are sending out false – it's just unbelievable. With his denying the use of nevirapine to pregnant mothers he's killing more children or is responsible indirectly for the killing of more people than ever died under apartheid. 35,000 children a year could be saved. That's statistics, worldwide, 50% - 60% effective. At the moment 70,000 are dying and you could save half. Anyway I've come here to commiserate with you on it.

VZS     Thank you.

POM     It just gets me. I wanted to talk about the Sunday Times story about two months ago by Max du Preez in which he mentioned some meetings between yourself, I think Thabo Mbeki, Constand Viljoen, Jurgen was there.

VZS     Mbeki wasn't there.

POM     Larry Schlemmer I think was there too, revolving around the question of either Viljoen saying he had about 40,000 commandos at his disposal and that they would respond to his call if he called on them to respond to his call. Can you recall that?

VZS     The first time that it happened was pretty close to that whole Mmabatho period and I was having lunch with him in Pretoria in a restaurant, Jurgen was there too if I'm not mistaken and we were talking about the nature of the transition and he felt very uncomfortable about the way in which, as he put it, the Afrikaner was being handled and so on and then he volunteered, he said, "You know I've got 30,000 men under arms and there are opslagplekke." What is an opslagplekke? Caches, caches stashed all over the area here and if I want to I can mobilise them. He said, "But do I want a civil war? I don't want a civil war but I can if it goes on like this." And we talked about it and that's really where I thought, well hell, maybe we must find a way of pulling him into informal discussions and I went and got some money from the German government to pay for his brother, his twin brother –

POM     Twin brother?

VZS     Looks exactly like him. In fact when the people from the Dakar meeting came back and got off at the airport the right wing, Terre'Blanche and company were all there ready to lynch this lot except for the twin brother, they saluted him as he walked out. He walked right through because they thought it was the General. In any case his twin brother then used to work for IDASA and he was in a sense seconded to promote this kind of dialogue with Jurgen and so on. Braam, Braam Viljoen is his name. He was Professor of Theology and when he left on this Dakar thing he came back and stood as a candidate for the Progs and lost. I told him he was going to lose but in any case he battles now as a farmer.

     That was the first time and then you had the Mmabatho incident. Viljoen was there funnily enough. Breyten's brother played a very prominent role. Breyten's brother, Colonel Jan Breytenbach, 32nd Battalion, all of that and so on.

POM     He's famous, the guy who was half way on his way to – he's the famous Colonel Breytenbach is he?

VZS     Yes. He's just written a book on the plunderers. Well Jan Breytenbach was the guy who actually went to Mmabatho, saw that this was a cock-up when the AWB and all rushed in there and literally kicked old Eugene Terre'Blanche out of the airport. He said, "Just go away, just go away." And then of course there was this rather undignified retreat. I still think it was that moment that Viljoen, the General, realised that, yes, if I go this route then the country is in flames and he then started getting all involved in discussions and Jurgen held a number of meetings with Thabo and Maduna and Tshwete and others, met with Viljoen at his house. I was never part of those meetings.

     I can't pinpoint it, but certainly parliament had been informed and there was a dinner party at Jurgen's house, Max du Preez was there, Laurie Schlemmer was there, Russell Loubser from the Jo'burg Stock Exchange was there, Viljoen was there and the two Mulder brothers were there, and of course Jurgen and myself. We were talking away and carrying on about the transition and how – it was actually quite interesting because Russell Loubser, despite the fact that he's got an Afrikaans name, he's an anglicised Afrikaner so he was repulsed a bit by this 'be Afrikaner and nationalisme' and so on and he and old Laurie almost came to blows, they were really shouting at one another. And so the conversation went on. I said to Viljoen, "You know, you remember that time in Pretoria you said you had 30,000 men under arms?" He said, "Yes, I've got more now", that's after 1994. He said, "I've got more now," The Mulder brothers said, "Ja, ja. Yes, yes, that's true." But was this just sort of dinner talk? I don't know.

     I always thought that there was a real potential if the farm murders carried on that you would get a kind of rural mobilisation of the commandos and the farmers. You see the fascinating thing is there's a very strong community of interest between Mapogo, do you know Mapogo?

POM     No.

VZS     Mapogo is a black vigilante movement, it started in Sekuneland. It now has about 60,000 members and they are essentially – if you get last week's Mail & Guardian there's a whole article about them as well. Now they, the leader whose name now escapes me, he just said, "Stuff all this rural crime, this is bullshit. We blacks aren't used to this kind of thing in the rural areas." So they started their own vigilante organisation and it's been extraordinarily effective. They now have branches in every province in the country, plus they have a lot of white members, plus they have a lot of farmers who belong to Mapogo and pay them protection money every month. You can go to a rural filling station owner and it will say, "We are protected by Mapogo", and there are countless stories they will tell you of a housewife saying her TV set was stolen. Who do you think – they go there and they get hold of this poor fellow and they flagellate him, they hit him with sjamboks. They've taken people and held them over the bridge of a crocodile infested river and say, "OK, now you want to talk or do you want to give lunch to that thing there?" And of course they talk. A few have been killed. They've tried court cases against them. In the Northern Province Mapogo and the cops actually work together. Totally illegal.

     Now what you're seeing here is the birth of some kind of vigilantism in the rural areas. Mapogo would be a black equivalent to Pagad. Pagad is a vigilante movement but of course it has predominantly religious overtones with Islam and so on, but it's essentially a vigilante movement. I had an interview on TV the other night with Pagad members and they just say it's a response to law and order, or the absence of. The cops are corrupt, drug cartels run the Cape Flats, our kids are under threat, stuff this. So they started up. Now it's the same thing with Mapogo.

     Why do I mention it? It's because there is an extraordinary community of interest between disaffected farmers, farm workers and Mapogo. They're beginning to form a unit in the rural areas. That's already a substantial difference to Zimbabwe because I can tell you now, no cop will easily walk into a Mapogo dominated area and start throwing his weight around. They will thump him. So you're either going to send in the army there and try and quell it in which case you will certainly lose the support of the ordinary folk, of the people, because to them Mapogo is a sort of security. Now that doesn't mean it doesn't have the potential to go horribly wrong, of course it can, but for the time being – it would be interesting for you to get to know these guys, go and talk to them. They're here, just Pietersburg.

POM     Who's the person to talk to?

VZS     The leader, his name is in the Weekly Mail, you can get it all there.

POM     And in Pagad? I'm trying to make an inroad there.

VZS     The person who came to talk on my programme is an Afrikaans, devout Christian girl on the executive of Pagad. She's not Muslim, and her name is Madelief Botha. The person who will give you her telephone number will be Ronnie who is the producer of this programme. Just tell him you want Madelief Botha's contact number, or whoever is in Pagad.

POM     Just going back to Viljoen, I remember you mentioning on one occasion and being quoted on numerous other occasions that after De Klerk had made his February 2nd speech, of having an interview or a conversation with him in which you said, "Did you ever think about the military when you were taking your decisions, that they might be a problem?" And he kind of looked at you, surprised, and said, "Should I be?

VZS     I was the very first one. I saw him when I came back from Oxford and I said, "Aren't you concerned about the military and the security situation?" He said, "Why? Should I be?" That's what he said, "Should I be?" I said, "Well I think you've got yourself a tough situation there." Now when I had an interview for an hour with him on this Afrikaans TV station I said to him, "Tell me now after the TRC and all of that, and what was obviously going on, a government within a government within a government, were you part of that loop? Did you know what was going on in the military and the security establishment?" He said, "No, no, I was never part of it." I asked Roelf who was the fucking Minister of Defence … so at best I've traced the line from PW Botha to JR le Roux, they called him JR. He was Botha's sort of flunky, a bald little man with glasses, from Botha to JR to the Generals direct. Because not even the State Security Council, of which Roelf was the Secretary during the …, that's what they all claim. I just find it astonishing because, well I told you the story when I went to see Machel and Pik had gone ahead of me.

POM     You went to see?

VZS     Samora Machel, you know I gave you The Diaries of Colonel Vass and Colonel Vass his diaries were captured up in the Tet Province which showed quite clearly that the NP government was destabilising Mozambique before, during and after the signing of the Nkomati Accord. So I went to Viljoen and I said, "What's this issue?" He said, "Communist propaganda".

POM     He said communist propaganda?

VZS     Yes.

POM     The name of the Colonel again?

VZS     Vass, he was a Renamo Colonel and there was a Renamo/Frelimo fight and Renamo was being supported by the SA government or the SA Defence Force. In any case I went and saw Machel and I met his Minister of Security, Sergio Vieira and he gave me a copy of those diaries. But I'm sure I lent you my copy of it? Didn't I?

POM     No, absolutely not.

VZS     You can't be serious.

POM     No. That would stick in my head like a bullet.

VZS     Then I've got them here. You can have them if you want to read them.

POM     Could I borrow them, make a copy them?

VZS     Of course you can. I'll bring them to the office and you can just pick them up any time. In any case old Vieira said to me Pik had been there two weeks before and went as white as a sheet when he saw the contents of these diaries. I reminded Pik the other night because after I spoke to De Klerk I had Pik and Roelf on this programme. Pik said, "Ja, that Louis Nel", who was his deputy minister, "He went in there without my permission and when I confronted him he said the reason I didn't ask your permission is because you wouldn't have given it to me." So there was some funny stuff going on there. In any case Pik got such a fright he phoned Niel Barnard who was then National Intelligence and said, "Arrange protection for me when I land at Voortrekkerhoogte", because he thought the military would bump him off after he'd got this information. That was the final critical moment that made me decide to resign, to walk out, because you became so far removed from any kind of political decision making that was accountable. It was ridiculous. I just find it very interesting that you just can't find anybody who was part of that inner circle.

POM     And no-one can, despite all the investigations, pin anybody.

VZS     Well you saw what happened with Botha. They subpoenaed him to come to the TRC and he said –

POM     Go to hell.

VZS     "Go to hell. What do you mean me come there?" He's the head honcho, he must have known. But you can take the key Generals, they must have, for God's sake, it's their men that they're sending in there and you want to tell me that politicos, all of them were unaccountable? Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defence, Minister of Police? And they all say, "What us? What are you talking about?"

POM     I'll be interviewing Pik on Thursday. Is there one question that you didn't get to ask him that you would have asked him if time hadn't run out on the programme, or that he didn't answer adequately?

VZS     Well I tried to do it in any case, and that was to say to him: were you trying to sell this country totally oblivious of what was going on with the total strategy and with what the military would do? You yourself admit there was a government within a government and you weren't part of that government yet you had to go and sell the country and foreign policy. He felt this strongly with the Rubicon speech, old Pik. We talked, we had a great time. What happened was I had this hour with De Klerk and De Klerk was presenting himself as if he was totally and completely in charge of everything from the very moment he made his speech. In fact he traced what he called the 'paradigm shift' in the NP to a NP Congress in 1986. The next morning Roelf and Pik were independently howling with anger and demanded to reply on that same programme the next week.

POM     They wanted to reply?

VZS     They wanted to say he's talking shit. So we had a meeting, we had an interview and Roelf quite openly said, "President de Klerk is actually not talking the truth, it's not true." The paradigm shift came after Boipatong and it was for the first time up until that moment De Klerk thought he could maintain a controlling position of a white minority government. He really believed it. This is Roelf talking, not me.

POM     He could control?

VZS     That he could manage the controlling position of a white minority government.

POM     So that the outcome of negotiations would be – ?

VZS     He would still be in charge. Roelf said it. I know you've always argued with me about this and Fanie van der Merwe says I'm talking nonsense. Roelf says the first time FW ever understood the implications of majority rule was when he came back from Cyril after Boipatong and said, "This is it. If you don't negotiate on this basis", as old Mac Maharaj said, "The old man is prepared to go back to jail." Now if you listen to De Klerk he knew from the very start it was going to be like that. He knew. He was actually planning for that and all these other guys, Pik and all of them say, "Bullshit." Nobody in the NP knew that this was going to be done. Pik said when Roelf said the paradigm shift was after Boipatong and Pik said he's right. You can get a copy there from Ronnie, ask Ronnie for a copy of the tape.

POM     Are there copies of those, of all the interviews you've done with these people?

VZS     Yes.

POM     I'd like to go through them.

VZS     Ronnie is your man. He will give you a copy.

POM     They're in Afrikaans?

VZS     Unfortunately.

POM     I'll have them translated. I remember talking to General Meiring a couple of times and their attitude towards Roelf was one of contempt. He sold out. But the contempt went back to what he did when he was in the military service, he was conscripted as a youngster, that he joined the choir. They saw him as a choirboy.

VZS     Is that so? Clever man. Fuck, I would have joined the choir myself.

POM     I remember asking him when he became Minister of Defence, which he wasn't in for very long, would he get to the bottom, would he look into this and would he look into that and would he look into the other? And years later, I've interviewed him every year or twice a year since, he's just come back from Northern Ireland where he's becoming a big hit in Northern Ireland.

VZS     He's a visiting professor in Northern Ireland.

POM     Yes, but then he was at Cambridge, what we call the British Irish Association that meets once every year.

VZS     But they're loving it. De Klerk and Roelf, travelling around and explaining, Alec Boraine, my dear friend Alex, telling the world how to make peace! I said to him you're talking absolute crap, you can find the broad planet as similarities and so on but are you thinking you're selling Post Toasties here? You think we're selling Post Toasties here? Come to the corner shop. You want peace?

POM     Which are the interviews that I should look at?

VZS     The De Klerk interview and then I had Roelf and Pik together, they followed two weeks, one week and then the next week. About three weeks ago. Ronnie is there and you can phone him at that number and tell him I asked him please would he make those tapes available to you.

POM     Do you think that if Viljoen had called upon his 30,000 plus that there would have been a mutiny of sorts in the military, that there would have been elements in the military still loyal to him that would have sort of turned over and joined him or that the military ethos in this country was such that you're a professional?

VZS     All that I can tell you is, and military folklore is legendary, people will tell you that these men would have died for him with pleasure. They say that of Jan Breytenbach, they say that of Constand Viljoen. He was a soldier's soldier, he never asked anybody to do anything that he wasn't willing to do himself so if he picked up the gun and said let's go they would have said how soon do you want us? He's convinced that that would have happened. I still think that he was seduced away from that thing by Braam and those discussions he had with the ANC and there again Thabo's acumen played a very important role, just like a bull – I don't know, Thabo was getting further and further away from the violent option because there were guys in the ANC who were shit scared of that, including Mr Mandela. They were shit scared.

POM     So Thabo deserves the credit.

VZS     Cooling him down I guess. And Mandela also said to him, "We'll look at the issue of a homeland."

POM     Yes well, he felt sold out on that badly. I assume you did an interview with him when he resigned?

VZS     No I didn't do an interview. We had private discussions.

POM     I'm going to interview him too for the end of his story.

VZS     I must tell you story about him after the elections when the DA became the official opposition – no the DP became the official opposition, knocked the others sideways and so on. Viljoen phoned me and said, "Won't you come and have a cup of coffee?" So I said, "Sure". So we met at the Protea half way, Midrand, for a chat and a cup of coffee. He said, "Look, I just want to ask you one question. Why did my people walk past my table and go and vote for Tony Leon?" So I said, "Well, Constand, I think a number of things. There is no such thing as 'my people'. People think there is 'my people' but if circumstances change 'my people' become other people's people. So the so-called ethnic Afrikaner that you thought you had they felt that you weren't delivering for them and they may have thought that that guy, Tony Leon, he's taking a much tougher position." And he laughed and he said, "You know one of them came to me and said, 'Constand, this time I vote for the Jew, he's going to fight much harder against the kaffirs than you are'." That's what he said. He will fight much harder against the kaffirs than you will. I said, "Here, Constand, do you really want to keep that kind of a vote? That's not a vote, that's just bullshit." He said, "Yes I know." That's just an aside.

POM     Was Breytenbach in Mmabatho as an agent of Viljoen? Had he gone there to do advance work, to look the scene over?

VZS     No, to help him to see that this thing didn't get out of hand. He enjoyed authority and Viljoen asked him to assist. I think that was really what it was because the AWB were on light delivery vans and tractors and any damn thing that could move, charging into Mmabatho, and Viljoen said, "Well we'd better stop and see that there's no chaos." They all met at the airport and it was at the airport that, apparently, Breytenbach just said to them, "Get the hell out of here."

POM     The interesting thing on that is that Mac tells me, he was there and in touch with Mandela all the time.

VZS     Mac Maharaj?

POM     Yes. He had insisted on going with Meiring to see that Mangope got his marching orders and he says that when Viljoen had supposedly left Mmabatho that there was a helicopter circling over the Embassy and it landed and Viljoen got out, Viljoen was in the helicopter and that he had discussions with Meiring.

VZS     Oh, I don't know that.

POM     And that Mac walked in and said, "I want to be part, I am here on behalf of Mandela, just as much as you, General Meiring, are here on behalf of the State President."

VZS     That was the time of the government of what? Transitional Authority.

POM     That's right, so he said, "I've equal authority, I'm speaking for Mr Mandela. I want to be part of any discussion you have. I want to hear it." The discussions, he said, went on between the two of them which I will follow up with both and establish that. So, again, it's like intrigue within – what did Churchill call it? Enigma within a mystery? That's terrific. I won't take more of your time today. I'll probably be back.

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.