About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

19 Jan 2003: Spaarwater, Maritz

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POM     Let me start with a general question. When did the NIS - Niel Barnard said that if one had access to, was able to read the yearly assessment reports that the NIS provided to the government, that one would see that for a number of years they had been encouraging the government to try to open negotiations with the ANC, that the time had come to do that. Could you comment on that? What the year book was about?

MS     You know, Padraig, I was with Military Intelligence, I went over to the NIS in 1981 because of what they had started writing then, saying things such as we can never solve our problems by way of security force action, it must be imaginative, political initiatives, without mentioning, of course, the ANC or anyone. But that they had been saying and writing for some time and that's what moved me to move over from MI to the NIS but exactly when they started talking about talking to the ANC I wasn't involved in that, I don't know. I know that Niel Barnard and Mike Louw and some other people in government service started talking to Mandela in jail a number of years before.

POM     That was in 1985. When you were in MI how long did you spend in MI?

MS     Oh about 18 years.

POM     What was the assessment of the capacity of the MK to wage either a classical kind of guerrilla warfare or to mobilise the population in some way that would lead to armed insurrection or was it really the assessment that they were an irritant that can occasionally perform something or carry out an action here or there but in the long run they don't have the capacity, they don't have the armoury, they don't have the supply routes, they don't have the political infrastructure?

MS     Or the organisation.

POM     Or the organisation to really do very much in the country and the leadership is in Lusaka and they're planning, it's like a revolution. Here we have a classic case of a revolution which is being carried out from abroad almost on a - 

MS     You said that just about exactly as we were thinking about it at the time. They were capable of exploding a bomb here or launching a rocket at the Swartskop airfield but as far as military capacity as such certainly not anything regarding conventional war but very poor, far poorer for instance than the ZANU PF and ZAPU revolutionaries in Zimbabwe. They were better organised, especially ZAPU had Chinese backing and training, etc., they were far more effective. What did they call themselves, the armed wing? I can't remember. But we regarded the ANC's military capability with disdain, there was nothing really but we kept on saying even in the military that we can keep on making war for 20 or 30 years but that is not going to bring any solutions. The military will be able to make war, some Generals said, indefinitely which wasn't true but for 20 - 30 years we can contain the MK threat but not reach essential solutions. That would need to be done politically.

POM     So did you see any evolution in the military strategy of the MK during those years, say in the period post Soweto?

MS     You know what forced the negotiating situation eventually was the ANC's total onslaught, it wasn't the government's total onslaught, it was the ANC's with these four pillars. What was it? The Morogoro conference, diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions, armed struggle and mass action. Of the armed struggle nothing ever came, mass action exerted pressure, much pressure on the government, demonstrations and riots and things.

POM     So this would be post 1983?

MS     Yes with the highlights in 1985 and 1986 when we tried states of emergency to try and contain that, unsuccessfully. We were at NIS saying it would be unsuccessful, we couldn't do that. The thing that eventually swung everything into action was the economy which led eventually to the negotiating process. I remember at Union Buildings, I think I mentioned this to you, we had an Operations Room at the President's Office and I was there one morning when they had all sorts of statistics and bar charts and things like that.

POM     This was when PW was President?

MS     Yes. And the chap in charge there, one of our people was a man called Andre Botha and he was standing around there one morning when the President came in and looked at these charts and things and there were two graphs that had crossed each other on one of these big displays. And he stood there in deep thought looking at that, PW Botha, and shaking his head and he said, "Does this mean the country is bankrupt?" And Andre Botha said, "Yes sir, I am afraid the country is bankrupt." That was after the effects of the Chase Manhattan Bank refusal to roll over loans followed by others. It had become very obvious. I would say this was 1983/84.

POM     Did that happen after he made his not crossing the Rubicon speech? That's when the Chase Manhattan, the banks refused to roll over the loans.

MS     1979. I can't recall that, I don't know. When was – I think the Rubicon speech was 1987 or was it earlier.

POM     1985 I think.

MS     I'm a bit uncertain of that, I don't know.

POM     What was the President's response?

MS     He didn't respond at all. He probably did in cabinet but we wouldn't know that.

POM     Just to go back again to MI, what degree of penetration did you have in the ANC?

MS     Quite considerable. We had a number of their bigger people on our books, not the very top people but we got good information. For instance, there was one national serviceman that worked for us at MI during his compulsory service and we heard from sources in the ANC that this national serviceman was in fact working for the ANC, for MK and we confronted him and we got the requirements that MK had put to him, he told us, and we wrote reports for him to send back. For instance the ground plans of what then were the battalion bases, there were nine battalions spread all over the country and we drew maps and charts of these bases, especially I remember the one in Upington, from which MK or nobody would even have found the toilets much less the arsenals, the armoury and things like that. So that's one example of information that we got from inside the ANC.

POM     Did you have information coming from Lusaka?

MS     Yes and Dar Es Salaam. I remember we had one source in Dar Es Salaam which was very good which also gave rise, together with information that the security police got from their sources, this gave rise to the action under Jacob Zuma and others in Angola against the so-called traitors, the Quatro Camp where they were confronted and interviewed, so-called, some of them killed, etc., because they'd cottoned on to the fact that we were getting information from inside sources.

POM     So the people that they confronted in the Quatro Camp were in fact working under cover?

MS     Well not ours at MI at the time but there were Security Police assets.

POM     MI would concentrate on the MK?

MS     Yes, their military capability.

POM     Did you have feedback on what military capability was and what its operational plans were?

MS     Yes we got a lot of that, we were actually very well covered on the intentions and the capabilities of the Russians, the East Germans and the Cubans in Angola. You will know that MK people fought together first with Unita and then with FAPLA forces and we got good information from them of the planning, the intentions, the strengths of Cuban forces, Russian planning, the East Germans were running the Angolan Air Force at that stage, and how they assessed our capabilities. We were very well covered I thought.

POM     Now some people have suggested to me that in the Angolan war that the battle for Cuito Carnavale was a turning point.

MS     Yes I think in the sense that we realised then that we needed more capacity, more capability if we were to carry on indefinitely, although we regarded that as a very good battle from our point of view but then it became clear that we would need further means to carry on indefinitely.

POM     When you say 'means' was it in terms of that the arms embargo meant that the Cubans who were fighting, the pilots had MiGs, had far superior aircraft than you had and you couldn't get replacement parts?

MS     Not the MiG 19 but the MiG 23s that they got later on. That was of course a tremendous threat, not so much in weaponry but in money to enable Armscor at the time to do more and better as far as supplying went. I think we had all that we needed, we needed more tanks for instance but they took a fairly long time to manufacture and we needed some new ones, etc., etc., but Armscor also had a limit to their funds. So it boiled down to money but I think at that stage the political considerations already started taking over the thinking in government and accepting what we in the army and NIS had been saying strongly that we need to look for political solutions and the war was becoming too expensive, the country didn't have the money. That was the real basic reason why it eventually moved towards negotiations.

POM     So who moved first? Was it the government looking at the economy and saying we're bankrupt and we're isolated and like it or not we can't carry on with the military part indefinitely, we're bankrupt?

MS     Well PW Botha was very irascible but he was very rational except apparently after he had had his stroke, but I think he was always very much concerned and personally interested in the economy. He didn't just leave that to his Finance or Trade & Industry ministers. Having been a student in commerce himself, not finishing but that was his bent, and I think that he first came to the conclusion that we would need to negotiate but he also at the Rubicon speech reached the end of his elasticity, having been more worried about how to do it. I think he knew that there would need to be discussions, talks with the ANC but as the old traditional NP politician that he was how to do it was far more tricky to take the people, the volk, with him and I think that's what held him back, not in principle. He was the man who pushed through that resolution in the State Security Council for us to start talking to the ANC. PW.

POM     So there was a resolution taken?

MS     Yes.

POM     One gets the idea, I don't know if you've read the book or not, it's by Patti Waldmeir?

MS     I've just started on it.

POM     I began to leaf through it last night again and I said, oh I'll put it aside. Look at that, heavily marked and notes all over the place. But she suggests that the NIS took unilateral action in establishing contact with the ANC. What you're saying is that a resolution was passed by the State Security Council authorising you to make contact.

MS     Yes, it's a bit tricky.

POM     Quote from Alistair Sparks.

MS     Page 111, Tomorrow is Another Country by Alistair Sparks, first edition I think. He quotes, yes 1994, he quotes the Security Council resolution which said:-

     "It is necessary that more information should be obtained and processed concerning the ANC and the aims, alliances and potential approachability of its different leaders and groupings. To enable this to be done special additional direct action will be necessary, particularly with the help of National Intelligence Service functionaries."

     That was the resolution of the SSC. Now that is so broadly put that you can interpret that whatever way you wish. That's why FW de Klerk, for instance, he didn't realise that this had been interpreted with the blessing of Botha for the NIS to start talking to the ANC, it was merely to get more information and alliances, potential approachability of its different leaders and groupings. Also these different leaders and groupings, the idea then was still in some people's heads that you could split the ANC, for instance the internal UDF people from exiles, from the MK people.

POM     When you say 'some people' you're referring to? Who was a pusher of this line of thought, that the strategy here could be to split the ANC?

MS     The military. The military was very strong on that and the NIS and Foreign Affairs, which was also on the SSC, had the point of view that that wouldn't work, that they wouldn't allow it. And Niel Barnard and Mike Louw in talking to Mandela in jail they became even more convinced that it wouldn't work, that Mandela was too balanced, although he was angry when he learnt that we were going to talk to Thabo Mbeki in exile.

POM     How did he learn that?

MS     He was told. Niel Barnard and Mike Louw told him. They first asked him who in the exile group should we start talking to and he said, "No, don't talk to them, talk to me. I'm the leader of the ANC." And this went on for some time and he kept refusing and then eventually he was informed that we would be talking to the exiles and then he accepted that, he could do nothing else, who are we going to talk to? And he was quite livid when he was told that it would be Mbeki. He said, "That young man, why do you want to talk to him?" Those were the words. And that's what happened but we were convinced then, as I was at NIS, that that wouldn't work, it wouldn't work to try and pull schlenters.

POM     To do what?

MS     To try and pull schlenters.

POM     What does that mean?

MS     You know what's a schlenter? To think that we're going to be able to pull the wool over their eyes. They were far too intelligent for that and knew that this was a weakness they had, was being separated from one another, the exiles from the Robben Islanders from the UDF people in the country. That's why Mandela insisted and we conceded that he should start talking also to the people outside of the country, to the other UDF leaders, etc. It was arranged that he should get together with especially Walter Sisulu and I think Sisulu had a greater influence than anybody realises still today. He's a remarkable man. I don't know whether you've ever met him?

POM     I've interviewed him, yes.

MS     It's a pity he and Mandela aren't ten or fifteen years younger. That would have really put us on the right track.

POM     So in Victor Verster he could talk to Sisulu who was still in Pollsmoor, right?

MS     Yes he was in Pollsmoor then. And people like Mac Maharaj and even traditional leaders.

POM     Well Mac Maharaj would have been illegally in the country. He only came in with Operation Vula.

MS     I'm not sure of that. When did he get out of Robben Island?

POM     He got out of Robben Island in 1976.

MS     Oh I see, yes of course you're right.

POM     Then he was in Lusaka from 1977. I want to go back to again MI because I'm trying to balance it with what I'm trying to see, what appeared to be the emphasis on the ANC side and it appears until very late in the game that the military struggle took precedence over everything else.

MS     For a long time that was –

POM     Would that have been your assessment as well?

MS     Yes.

POM     Even though it wasn't being successful, even though it was almost, I won't say inconsequential to SA, as you said it was an irritant, they were still pushing for the belief that they could –

MS     On the fairly sound argument I thought that it was because of our capability, because of our military action, that MK was not succeeding so that should be kept up whatever we did. Whether we went into negotiations or not the military view was that we should keep on with the military action, security force action and the whole slogan of the military - gain time and space for whatever we wanted to do, whether to negotiate or not to negotiate, gain space and time also politically.

     I remember very well that I was in charge of the annual military threat assessment at one stage and the Chief of Staff Operations of the Defence Force had to have our assessment for him to be able to do his planning.

POM     Who was that at the time?

MS     That was General John Huyser, and for him to get his force levels, that sort of thing, done. I had to, I remember so well, give him this assessment by lunchtime on a Friday afternoon and literally when I gave him this assessment which is supposed to have formed the basis for his planning he gave me his planning document with his other hand, literally, literally. The one argument we had, there was a regiment of tanks, P34 tanks in Mozambique, and we knew in MI at the time that only one of those tanks was serviceable and the others were irrevocably rusted and broken, they'd never drive or shoot again, but Huyser and his team insisted that we must plan for a regiment of tanks in Mozambique. Perhaps also not totally irrationally because tanks can be replaced, the Soviets brought them there and they could have probably brought replacements as well, although Mozambique was so ramshackle at that stage they'd have had to – and the Russians didn't want to become more involved in Mozambique at the time because there was still a strong Chinese influence as well. They didn't want another area of confrontation.

POM     There was a strong Chinese influence in Mozambique?

MS     Mozambique, yes. Also as a result of the presence of ZAPU in Mozambique, because that was their base area and the Chinese gave a lot of support and training, etc., to ZAPU.

POM     That was Joshua Nkomo's – ?

MS     No, no. That was ZANU. ZAPU was first Tongagara(?) and then Mugabe took over.

POM     Why are they ZANU today?

MS     ZANU PF yes. I can't remember the acronym for their military wing which was stationed in Mozambique because Joshua Nkomo was in the west, in the south west, the Matabele.

POM     That's where the ANC were.

MS     Yes.

POM     What was your assessment of the threat in your yearly assessment report?

MS     We said there was a regiment of tanks by way of example but only one was serviceable.

POM     What was your overall assessment?

MS     Well we had fairly consistently said that as long as we maintained our strengths MK wouldn't be a threat. We were worried about the Soviets, the East Germans and the Cubans. That was a real threat and I am still convinced to this day, if we didn't have the military capability to make them rethink the way they made us rethink then certainly I have no doubt they would have marched into South West Africa, as it then was, no doubt about that. That was their aim, why would they otherwise have been there? And then the rest of the southern tip of Africa would have been there for the taking.

POM     Who would have marched in?

MS     Well probably the Cubans but with the full backing of the Soviet Union.

POM     So that was seen as the real threat? A far bigger threat to - ?

MS     Yes. And I think it was proven in a way that the stiff opposition that the Cubans proved to be, not that they ever won but they were a good army with the backing at the time of the Soviet Union. When they couldn't progress as was expected of them then the Soviet Union also re-thought their situation and decided not to put anything more into Angola, etc., because they had underestimated the capabilities of the SADF at that stage. I remember seeing a bit of intelligence, the one airborne raid that we had on that Kasinga Camp where about 600, if I remember correctly, SWAPOs and their hangers on, about which a lot of propaganda was made, this was a civilian refugee camp, it was the biggest bullshit on earth, it was a fully armed fortified SWAPO military base and we got information, I can't remember whether they were Soviets or Cubans or whoever that expressed surprise that we were able to do an airborne assault like that and the capacity of our upgraded tanks, for instance, which as you would know were old Centurion tanks but much upgraded, new systems, new fire control systems, etc., etc. It was a bit surprising that they hadn't known this before they came there because they should have known what our capabilities were but they still, I'm convinced, they underestimated what we could do at this stage.

POM     Now SWAPO, was the MI assessment of SWAPO compared to the MI assessment of the MK?

MS     No, we thought that SWAPO was much more of a real force, not overwhelming, not that we couldn't contain it but certainly better organised, more active, far more active than MK because MK most of the people they infiltrated were caught and very often shot before they could do any damage inside our country, but SWAPO managed to come in, not to the south of Namibia but into Ovamboland especially but more regularly, better organised groups which fought quite hard at times which we hadn't experienced from the MK ever at that stage.

POM     So if you had to look at the MK and say this is how I would assess them, top down from planning, through organisation, through recruitment, through training, through the military experience and capability of say their 'officer corps' to the man on the ground, to their ability to infiltrate, to their ability to establish sustainable bases within the country with some kind of supply route, even if it was just food or whatever, how would you assess it?

MK     I think that as happens in government now still to some extent planning was good. You had Joe Slovo and people like that, highly intelligent people. The present Chief of the National Defence Force, Siphiwe Nyanda, Chris Hani, they were very capable people but the execution fell flat as do many of the present day policies. They fall down in execution, not in conception. An interesting, it's a bit anecdotal, but we had after the negotiations started there was a so-called Article 3 Working Group which had to see to the cessation of the armed struggle, the collection of MK fighters in bases, camps, the lifting of arms caches, etc., etc., and it was so obvious, they stalled and stalled, Matthews Phosa, Chris Hani, Joe Modise who were on the ANC side in that working group, and it became very obvious they didn't have a clue, they didn't know where their people were, they didn't know where their arms caches were. To this day they have not recovered arms caches, which drew us to the conclusion that first they were very badly organised, but secondly that they really didn't have anything of note inside the country to identify for lifting.

     The same impression I got later on when I went back to the NIA, as it then was, for the integration of the Intelligence Services, that they mentioned the ANC people with whom we discussed and negotiated and integrated eventually, spoke of all this information that they had and that the moment we reached a certain point of integration they would bring all of that into record in the existing infrastructure that we had at NIA. That never materialised, they simply didn't have the information or the intelligence that they said they had. They had individuals sitting looking at reports and doing but they had no system, I'm convinced of that, they had no integrated information system, much the same as we experienced in that working group on the ending of the armed struggle. So I think they were badly organised, they were well conceived, their planning was well done by some very bright people but their execution was never up to scratch, it was always bad.

     And they had the problem of our intelligence penetration, especially the Security Police at that stage had very good access to their MK groups, fighting groups that infiltrated into the country. That's where they could never get in in any great numbers. That was a great worry for, for instance, Mac Maharaj. I spoke to him about that. They could never understand, and Joe Slovo, why these things couldn't be done. And then they over-reacted at times against what they called 'the spies among us'. They had a difficult time but they could have been better organised.

POM     When you say 'over-reacted'?

MS     Against their own people as suspected spies as happened in Quatro in Angola, which was terribly damaging for morale. Even people like Pallo Jordan who's regarded, I never had too good an impression of him, but he was regarded as a top intellectual, an MP, they had him in the Quatro Camp and he was also tortured which just illustrates the disruption in their whole structure that took place when they were still in exile.

POM     Were you aware of the fact that they had arrested a high ranking person like Pallo Jordan?

MS     No not as far as I was aware. Our view was that it was fairly small fry that they were getting at. That was quite a surprise later on. You will recall the Motsuenyane Commission which was appointed to investigate what happened in Angola in those penal camps and I read that for the first time in their report, I read these names of people like Pallo Jordan. He's probably the most prominent but there were other, I can't remember who, but there were other fairly prominent people as well.

POM     What was that name? Was that the first report? There were two reports. This is called the - ?

MS     Motsuenyane. He was very well thought of, he still is. He was then President of NAFCOC, African Business Chamber, and he is still involved in those circles. I am not aware of two reports or I can't recall but I think his was the very first report on that.

POM     So going back to the military aspect which I've been asking Mac about the relations between the military and the political in Lusaka and he said it seemed that while everyone accepted that they had to get a political underground operative before they could ever think of getting a sustainable MK presence, everyone said yes, that's fine, and then they would continue to push the MK all the time. But they must have been aware that it was going nowhere. Did it make sense to you from the other side that they would continue to put all their resources into an effort that was yielding no return?

MS     Yes see I think they were under pressure from their sponsors who were insisting on results, mainly the Soviets who have always been their main sponsors. I think that put pressure on them to keep on pushing these chaps in without the, as you called it, the political infrastructure. There was no sea in which the fish could swim. The internal process, internal protests, etc., were driven by the intellectuals and rent-a-crowds. It wasn't a mass action originating in the masses as all revolutions are, they are intellectual exercises.

POM     All revolutions are an intellectual exercise?

MS     They start intellectually, yes. But that must be what Mac meant. It didn't help sending in these isolated groups who were clobbered when they came in mostly because they couldn't swim in the sea and I think that was something that at times tried the patience of the sponsors, the Soviets, not only the Soviets, others as well, but not seeing results for the expenditure and I think that was the reason why MK kept pushing, pushing although they weren't achieving any results and losing quite a lot of people in the process.

POM     So when the UDF came into being after the tricameral parliament came into operation, were they seen as something spontaneous or as 'rent-a-crowd'?

MS     Also, no there was a lot of spontaneity but the bedrock was also amongst the intellectuals at that stage and we had in fact warned at NIS, I recall so clearly documents that we had written saying we must not do that tricameral parliament because that would further alienate the black people. I mean it stands to reason it would and further complicate the prospects for an eventual solution. But people, especially in government, in cabinet, weren't thinking along those lines, the majority of them. That I think history will still illustrate for PW Botha, he was the real initiator of reform by way of this Security Council resolution. That was a watershed, an absolute watershed.

POM     And that passed by FW? He was at the meeting and he said yes, didn't think it through.

MS     It sounds very innocent. Some people say that FW was not on the SSC, this was just a small group. Others say, a friend of mine who was on the support staff of the SSC said that he was a member but only occasionally co-opted and he probably wasn't at that meeting because he was very angry about our having spoken to the ANC but then Mike Louw showed him the resolution and then he realised that he'd been ill-informed, whether he had seen it or not or not realised what it really meant, that I wouldn't know.

POM     So with this mandate, was it the NIS that initiated an approach to the ANC rather than vice versa?

MS     We initiated the approach, first by starting to talk to Mandela and secondly by the good offices of the academic professor Willie Esterhuysen who put us in contact with Mbeki and from there we saw him and Jacob Zuma the first time.

POM     You were with the group that met in Zurich?

MS     No, I was at the previous two meetings, the one in Lucerne and the one in Geneva. The first two meetings I was with Mike Louw. The first was with Mbeki and Zuma and the second with Mbeki and Aziz Pahad and then for the third one in Zurich I wasn't there.

POM     I would assume that you had a profile of Mbeki and a profile of Zuma before you went there? What did you find and what did you go to say and did you get the impression that Mbeki was acting on his own or that he was operating with a mandate from Tambo?

MS     Yes, we were fairly sure that he wasn't acting on his own. He had it from Tambo and we never really noticed it but there was quite a bit of tension between Mandela and Tambo at one stage of their careers as well and some people thought that that would make Mbeki a Tambo man and opposed, in a sense, to Mandela. It was an easy thing to think and to say but it wasn't really founded in fact.

POM     When you say there was a tension between Mandela and Tambo?

MS     Yes at one stage they were at loggerheads, earlier in their careers.

POM     This is before Mandela went to Robben Island?

MS     And even afterwards because they did have communication. Tambo was the one, for instance, that was opposed at one stage to the establishment of MK, to the military action which was established by Mandela and others. That remained a source of tension. I'm a bit vague on it but we got reports from time to time of people talking on the phone, etc., etc. Even in the negotiations process one chap whose name I won't mention, a senior ANC man, expressed regret. Within the context we were talking about something Mandela had said in the negotiations and he expressed regret that Tambo had not been there, without specifically addressing the issue and Mandela, but just saying, while we were talking about Mandela, saying he was sorry that Tambo wasn't there. So that went through the hierarchy.

POM     So what did you find when you were on these two meetings?

MS     We were there to explore the possibilities of starting to talk to them. There wasn't any talk of negotiations at that stage and we found them amenable.

POM     Talks about talks.

MS     Yes. Very pleasant, we had a good few snorts until very early in the morning, though Zuma never drank anything alcoholic, other than Mbeki, he drank just about as much as me and Mike Louw. But it was very pleasant, it was fruitful, the upshot was that both of us went back to our principals, as it was called, and said that we thought we should carry on, there was room for talking, it might be to the advantage of both parties to try and find some negotiated solution, etc. That was well received eventually after FW had blown his top. The possibility was well received and we were sent back and then we spoke to –

POM     When you got back on the second occasion was FW now President?

MS     He was President.

POM     He was President.

MS     He became President a few days before we came back from the first meeting. In fact we were the second appointment he had on the first day that he had appointments as President and interestingly enough the first appointment was a chap called Alf Ries who was the old political guru of Die Burger newspaper.

POM     I don't know how he escaped my notice but he did.

MS     He was Die Burger's backroom political guru, very closely associated with the NP, etc. But in any event then we were instructed to try and get some more specific planning done and the upshot of that second meeting was that we had agreed on establishing four working groups. The one was the returning of the exiles, second I think, not in that order, but second there was something about the release of the Robben Island prisoners, thirdly was the ending of the armed struggle. The fourth one I can't remember. But these were duly established later on. Our recommendations were accepted for these working groups and – oh yes, the fourth one was a constitutional one, to see what had to be done about the constitution, about the new constitution. And that working group, if I remember correctly, I wasn't involved in that.

POM     Was it with Zuma and Thabo again?

MS     No it was with Thabo and Aziz Pahad.

POM     Oh Aziz Pahad, sorry.

MS     I think that's where the following important step, if I remember correctly, was the Groote Schuur conference. I think so, you know about that?

POM     The unbanning and all of that, yes.

MS     Those sorts of things. No the Groote Schuur conference was before that. This must have been in –

POM     Mandela was released in February, that was the first official meeting, that was in May of 1990.

MS     I can't remember, I'm vague on the dates now. But I thought that the Groote Schuur conference was the first one without Mandela.

POM     No, Mandela was there.

MS     It couldn't have been.

POM     Because the ANC had to be unbanned when that took place. So what was your assessment at that time of Zuma and Mbeki in terms of – who was the person who was – was Mbeki always in control?

MS     Absolutely. We were very much impressed with him as a person and as an intellect. He really made an excellent impression. Zuma as well but of another type. He was quiet, he was definitely the second man, he wasn't the leader of the team. Mbeki was that, without the slightest doubt he was in charge. He still at that stage carried the authority of Tambo. It was very strong throughout the ANC and if he'd been well I'm quite sure that he would have become President and not Mandela. He was in huge standing with virtually everyone in the ANC, Oliver Tambo, but he'd already had his stroke there and Mbeki told us in confidence that he was fairly ill, which we appreciated very much, he was honest with us and said he didn't think Tambo would be active in politics any longer. Everyone then in the ANC was worried, good heavens, is he coming back or is he not and that sort of thing.

POM     At that point did you get any impression from him as to who would be his successor if he was incapacitated in that way?

MS     No not at all.

POM     So was there a void, so to speak, at that point?

MS     I think there was but with the release it became so immediately obvious who would fill that void. There was not a lot of talk but there was speculation about what would Thabo Mbeki do because he had apparently, I never got the full story, but he had antagonised certain people in the ANC perhaps chief amongst whom was Mac Maharaj who was, as you know, on Robben Island Mandela's right hand man. Definitely there were these two camps but I think we over-estimated the importance –

POM     Were you getting reports of that?

MS     Yes.

POM     What were the differences in the two camps?

MS     Well I got the impression that it was mostly, as I did when Mac Maharaj didn't want to serve under Mbeki, was that it was very personalised, very much to do with personalities. I'm not sure that there were any ideological differences, I don't think so.

POM     Was it the clash of two intellects? Could Mbeki tolerate it? Could Mbeki handle Mac Maharaj?

MS     That's a good question. Mac is one of the keenest intellects that I know but I think so is Thabo. I wouldn't like to scale them as far as intellect is concerned. Another aspect that could have played some part was that Mbeki was then, and I think still is, much of an Africanist and he's even antagonised some people presently in the Indian community with his Africanism, as he has some white people. I think that is a chip on his shoulder. That might have been one of the reasons why Maharaj wouldn't serve under him.

POM     A chip?

MS     On his shoulder.

POM     Over?

MS     His Africanism, call it racist, it's often called Africanist.

POM     Somebody said to me that people like Van Zyl Slabbert and others who went to Dakar and met Mbeki and they all came back saying what a charming, sensible person Mbeki was, that this was definitely a person that the government could do business was, he wasn't this raging communist even though at the time he was a member of the Politburo. Then Mbeki is now President and to many people who knew him he seems to be a different person with his emphasis on Africanism, with his stand on AIDS, with his propensity to centralise the presidency to an overwhelming extent which marginalises parliament and other bodies. What did your profile of him say? If you had to look at the profile that the NIS had of him and measure that against the Mbeki who exists as president of the country, how accurate were you?

MS     I'm personally quite disappointed in these aspects that you mention.

POM     The former ones or the latter ones?

MS     The latter ones. He impressed us as an intellectual, very amenable to talking, flexible, non-ideological and very pleasant, very pleasant. That's why - Mike Louw and I spoke about it recently, we're both surprised at these sort of blockages he seems to have on AIDS, on Zimbabwe, which must be ascribed to an Africanist bent in the sense of Mugabe being the original freedom fighter in Zimbabwe and you can't antagonise your brother in the struggle and things like that, irrational, which is unlike Mbeki, unlike the Mbeki that we got to know. Even in the negotiations process he was fairly understated. I was on a few committees where he was also from the ANC side but very back-roomish, intellectual, almost donnish, very reasoned and rational in his argumentation, etc., etc., which doesn't accord with what you've mentioned he's been doing now, this centralist hegemony that he seems to be striving for in government and, as we've said AIDS and Zimbabwe, etc.

     You know there was a strong argument, for instance, in writing the first draft of the constitution, drafting the first interim constitution in 1993, a bilateral committee between the government and the ANC of which I was very privileged to have been a member with Arthur Chaskalson being the main man on the ANC side and Roelf Meyer and those academics on our side, but also in the ANC side Joe Slovo, Valli Moosa, Dullah Omar (who I think is fairly lightweight intellectually), but the brilliance of Slovo and of Valli Moosa, Chaskalson, was an experience to have had. But the one question that arose was that there should be, and there was fair consensus, that there should be affirmative action but that it should have a cut-off date. I remember the one thing that was generally accepted by both sides was a period of 12 years and then one of us, I can't remember who it was, in a break during that meeting heard, I think it was Joe Slovo talking to Thabo, and the gist of their discussion was that Thabo said there shouldn't be a cut-off date and to look at that later, etc., etc. That seems to accord with what is the attitude on affirmative action now, it's an indefinite thing. It's doing tremendous damage to the country.

POM     So when you went back to that meeting after the break did it break - ?

MS     No, only later, only later did they change their minds.

POM     So at that point at that meeting - ?

MS     It was more or less agreed that it should be 12 years.

POM     But Thabo kept his mouth shut, he didn't –

MS     He wasn't in the meeting, he wasn't on that committee.

POM     Oh OK.

MS     It was during a break that they stood talking but later on they said that we must keep it open-ended at the moment and then we can later on see what the cut-off date must be. There were problems with any cut-off date at that stage.

POM     Was that the understanding at the time the interim constitution was accepted, that there would be open-ended affirmative action?

MS     Yes, there was no limitation. I personally thought, although I wasn't involved further in the final constitution in 1996, but I was strongly under the impression that the cut-off date would be put into the final constitution which it wasn't of course. I don't know if it was discussed and decided against.

POM     This is kind of moving ahead now, we'll move back and forward and I hope we'll have an opportunity to talk again because after I go through a transcript I always find the questions I should have asked and never did. Maybe on one of those yachts you see we can have – take an afternoon before it goes into storage.

     What was the government's broad strategy, or did it have one when it went into negotiations?

MS     You know, Padraig, that's something that worried me then and it's worried me ever since. There was no strategy as far as I could see. The only discernible strategy which was quite wrong, I thought, and which NIS thought and many other people such as Roelf Meyer and Leon Wessels and Dawie de Villiers, as opposed to people like Hernus Kriel and Tertius Delport and Andre Fourie, etc., the latter group were absolutely intent on keeping as much as possible, giving away as little as possible of privilege, power, everything. The other side said, "But it's impossible, it won't work." Nobody ever used the words but the Roelf Meyer side had the attitude that we must accept that there must be a black majority government. You know all these tricks of a rotating president and things like that, it was just rubbish, they would never, never have accepted that and we knew that having spoken to them often. They rightly said that that would be a travesty as regards democracy and, "You do want a democratic constitution don't you?" Obviously we did want one and that meant a black majority government.

     There was a lot of bickering, you know there was an organisation called the Policy Group for Reform, it was in fact a Cabinet Committee under the chair first of Gerrit Viljoen, the former Minister of Constitutional Development, and then of Roelf Meyer, and the bickering that took place there really illustrated that firstly, there was no strategy, there was no agreed strategy, and secondly that there were vast differences of opinion inside the government circles.

POM     Where did De Klerk stand?

MS     De Klerk supported, in most cases at which I was present, supported the real reformers, Roelf Meyer, etc., and this group, this Policy Group for Reform had no decision making powers. Everything that they recommended they recommended to the cabinet under the chair of De Klerk and in most cases they approved what this group had suggested. It was clear that the train of thought and the lines that were being followed were aimed at a democratic constitution, that's what it was. And there were some protests from the other side sometimes but never any alternatives. The one or two times that, for instance, Tertius Delport tried alternatives in the negotiating groups, they came second really badly. For instance, in one case where Delport insisted on a 75% majority on some sort of decisions, which I can't remember what it was –

POM     To change, to amend the constitution.

MS     I'm not sure whether it was that really because there are different majorities for different changes to the constitution. Delport insisted as the main government negotiator on that group, insisted on a 75% majority and the ANC said no, that was too much, that they'll accept 70%. And he refused. They came to a dead end and they dissolved indefinitely and things like that. Eventually when they reconvened and took up the matter again a 66% majority in that case was accepted, so it was far worse than what the ANC had suggested, not 66%, 66%. But there wasn't any strategy, there were lots of tactics but there wasn't an integrated strategy.

POM     Do you see, at the same time analysing the situation, that the ANC came in with a strategy?

MS     Oh yes, absolutely. Black majority government, that was clear, clear-cut from the beginning. It was easier of course because they were there for the taking, we were there for the losing. You had to decide how much you wanted to lose.

POM     The ANC operated on the premise that the government, it might be tactics, a dual strategy. You must have heard this, that on the one hand was to negotiate with the ANC and at the same time it was to create conditions in the country whether through the fomentation of violence and the use of the security forces to lend a helping hand to Inkatha, to undermine the ANC, undermine its capacity to organise on the ground, undermine its capacity to defend its own people so it would appear to the black majority as somebody who couldn't even protect them, that this was part of a strategy of De Klerk believing that he could get black votes, get a significant number of black votes and form an alliance with Inkatha and that the alliance of the two would give him a majority and retain him in power.

MS     I think there was that train of thought.

POM     A train of thought pushed by?

MS     By the security forces who were also intent on not giving away things.

POM     When you say the 'security forces' would that include the military?

MS     Yes I think so. Not so much MI but the top brass of the military. MI became fairly rational about the thing but they still supported dividing the enemy with a view to ruling the enemy, etc., and gave support to Inkatha. Whether De Klerk was ever really aware of what the security forces were doing at the time I'm not sure. I doubt it. What was he? He was Minister of Education at that stage.

POM     You're saying in a way that De Klerk had no knowledge of really the depth or of the structure of the military. He didn't really know what they were doing in a sense, that as Commander in Chief he had limited knowledge of and contact at a personal level with the chief brass in the military.

MS     Yes, he only got that after he became President.

POM     Did he ever establish – you had the Steyn Report and the firing of the Generals. You gave me his number, I've got to talk to him, General Thirion who won a civil suit against him. Did he have people around him who could feed him information about what the military were thinking?

MS     Yes I think so. We sat on many committees. As NIS we sat on many committees with the military and we knew what their way of thinking was and we put it in reports because, for instance, in this National Management structure, I can't remember what the committee was called but it was a strategic planning thing.

POM     Management Security System.

MS     Yes, Security Management System, and we often had - at the bottom of a report you were entitled to put your own provisos as an agency on those and we often put in provisos as did the military. If the consensus was something that they didn't like they said no they didn't agree, this is what they thought, and vice versa, we did the same as well, Foreign Affairs did the same, the police did the same. So he, if he ever read those things, he should have been aware of these different ways of thinking about things but I don't think he really was. I doubt it very much. He never became, as you put it, the Commander in Chief. He never gathered his Generals around and built the team or anything like that. That Steyn Commission was really an opting out in the sense of simply accepting what two or three Generals recommended him to do and fired the four guys, such as Thirion. He should never have been fired. That investigation of the Goldstone Commission, the Steyn Report, were all backed up by our counter-intelligence people, they did the investigations, and I personally saw a report from them because that was still under my authority then, saw the report which was in a tabled form, which said, "General CR J Thirion, no untoward action", it was in Afrikaans, "under the recommendations no action against Thirion." Then he got fired. That formed the basis of the Steyn Report and that was a travesty, that really was. That was a poor show by FW.

POM     Was he caving in for – you had Mandela at this point insistently saying, "The security forces are involved in the fomentation of violence in the townships particularly in the Vaal Triangle and I go to you and I tell you and you do nothing about it." Now were your reports at the time saying the same thing. Were your reports saying yes there is, there is security force involvement in the Vaal Triangle in many actions, there is collusion going on between the IFP and the security forces and, the man is now dead I did interview him three or four times, Themba Khoza was a go-between for the supply of arms to Inkatha. Were your reports saying this or were you oblivious to it? Did anybody say go out there and goddamn find out what's happening in those townships?

MS     We were expressly forbidden to investigate either the police or the military.

POM     By?

MS     By PW Botha. Someone even told me that it was done in writing but I never saw anything like that.

POM     But when FW becomes - ?

MS     We were still under that constraint when he became President but sometime I think later on in February 1990 we had a getaway with him, the top management of NIS with him. It was very pleasant and we got to know each other, etc. Then at that meeting our counter-intelligence chief at that time, which had just been split off from me, briefed him on what we thought and what we had heard but we had not been able, because of this prohibition, we had not been able to investigate. He then and there gave instructions.

POM     What was he told at that time?

MS     I remember they said it was only rumours, we can't call it anything else, but that there was collusion and there was assistance, etc., etc., but we don't know because we haven't been investigating it. There at that occasion FW gave instructions that they now had pertinently to investigate these rumours and that led to further reports to him and surely then he became aware what had happened. I didn't see those because I was no longer involved with counter-intelligence. I was then purely in the directive of operations which was intelligence gathering.

POM     Wouldn't what was going on in the townships have involved intelligence gathering?

MS     Yes but not the actions of the defence force, that was done by counter-intelligence.

POM     OK, so if the police in a township were aiding, say, Inkatha in some way an investigation of that wouldn't fall under your operation, it would fall under counter-intelligence. Now would counter-intelligence inform you of their findings?

MS     No, no. We worked extremely compartmentalised, yes absolutely.  It was really my suggestion to the bosses that counter-intelligence should be taken away from under me because in that job I would of necessity have been one of the main targets of counter-intelligence to see whether I was a spy or not and that fortunately happened and the load was far too heavy, nobody could cope with that load. Domestic and foreign plus counter-intelligence, it was killing. But the point being that we got these – you know when you get an intelligence report and it says something like defence force support to SWAPO, if it says the military are supporting Inkatha then obviously you're not going to accept it at face value, you have to go back and you have to do an agent operation and see whether it's happening or not and you need authorisation for that because it entails expenditure and we weren't allowed to do that. The CI people did so then.

POM     Who did?

MS     Counter-intelligence.

POM     They did, yes. And their reports would go to?

MS     Well to Niel Barnard first and then to FW. That was never published in our normal internal publications, nothing that CI ever did was because they were confronted by the act of enemy such as, apart from the KGB, the CIA and MI6.

POM     Were you aware of the fact that the ANC were coming from a position made very clear by Mandela at the time of Boipatong where he compared De Klerk to Hitler or Stalin, this was the strongest language I've ever heard Mandela use on any occasion, that they did believe that the government was out to destroy the ANC or to weaken it to an extent.

MS     I think they did believe that and probably rightly so in terms of the actions of some agencies of the state at that stage. I think that did put tremendous pressure on FW de Klerk because he was also uncertain and he also suspected that they were right but he didn't know, not then, but I am sure he was informed in due course.

POM     I'm trying to come now from the point of view where you're involved in negotiations and you're saying to yourself that this is what the guys on the other side believe. Did you approach your participation in the negotiations using a framework that the ANC believes that our side is out, even as we're talking about a new constitution and this and that and the other and even as I know that they're looking for majority rule, what they think is that we, that includes me, the other side is out to destroy them on the ground even if they're smiling across the table at them and saying let's negotiate in good faith?

MS     That was our main argument against that sort of collusion, call it that, that it would destroy the good faith of the negotiations and that was the main objective, if it was true, but we had been so consistently getting these rumours that I for one believed that there was involvement by the military, although certainly not when I was still in the military, there was nothing that I ever heard or saw or read of that going on. But I thought, and I think I can say NIS thought, that we were being less than completely frank with the ANC on those things. That did worry FW tremendously because there were all sorts of possibilities still that would have – there was a measure of goodwill that generated certain possibilities of in fact retaining something, the white establishment, one of which being, most importantly I thought, the government of national unity which to his absolute historical detriment will always be held against FW de Klerk for withdrawing from that government because of internal pressures.

     I haven't given you the little booklet I wrote?

POM     No.

MS     It was written on behalf of the UDM, it's glorified election pamphleteering but that sets out what happened with the withdrawal from the government of national unity, etc. I'll give you a copy.

POM     This is for Bantu Holomisa's party?

MS     Bantu Holomisa and Roelf Meyer. I'll let you have a copy. It's interesting. Boring in places. You get to the back when you see the election manifesto and the constitution of the UDM, don't read that. But I think it's a very concise exposition, if that's not too pretentious, also of the internal politicking that made Roelf Meyer resign from the NP. It touches on the withdrawal from the government of national unity and the approval, there was so much pressure on FW at that one stage, from the right and the left inside the party.

POM     This is?

MS     This was 1996/97, that he eventually said alright, he can't do both, he can't approve the constitution, the 1996 constitution, and remain in the government of national unity. He will do the one but not the other. They discussed which of the two and eventually he withdrew from the government and approved the constitution. It's so ridiculous. I say that, I thought, quite nicely in the little booklet, trying to be everything to everyone and satisfying no-one with that action of his.

POM     Was this part of his problem as President that in a sense he wasn't a strong President?

MS     Yes.

POM     He made one leap and after he took the leap he couldn't handle the leap he took himself?

MS     Also reaching the limits of his elasticity.

POM     That was with the release of Mandela, was it?

MS     Yes, I think that was it. You know he was died in the wool conservative Afrikaner politician and that must have been a huge wrench for him. Just as PW couldn't go all the way. If he had been gracious in his Rubicon speech he could have really gone places but he simply couldn't cross that threshold.

POM     I'll tell you a story that came to me, the other day I was talking to Ismail Ayob, Mandela's lawyer, and he said to me, "Did Mandela ever tell the story about why Mandela said leave PW alone, don't prosecute him, don't enforce the subpoena, just let it go?" And I said, "No." He said, "Well, Mandela told me that at the time Constand Viljoen was bringing his commandos together and the fracas was going on in Bophuthatswana that he, Mandela, from his sources got what he believed was credible information that the military, or a sizeable portion of the military, were going to step over and go with Viljoen and in that sense stop the elections. He laid it out for FW and said get on the phone and haul those Generals in here and take action, and that FW said, "There's nothing I can do, I don't have any control." And Mandela stormed out and either in a moment of desperation or inspiration called PW and he says Mandela said PW rang those Generals and hauled them into line. He said PW brought democracy to this country and Mandela said leave him alone, don't go near him.

MS     Amazing.

POM     Now I said you go back and have Mandela repeat that to you because that's mind-blowing. So he said, "OK, I'll go back and do it", but why would he tell me?

MS     They have been very lenient on PW haven't they? They've really been leaving him alone.

POM     Now would that surprise you? Taking your whole background right from - and I tell you a story like that.

MS     As I've said before PW was the real reformer. He rationally came to the conclusion that there must be reform. It was thrust upon FW and in that sense, no, I'm not all that surprised because he would have been, having taken that decision and instigated that SSC resolution, he wouldn't have wanted to see the armed forces getting into something so totally ridiculous and destructive of the country and he knew it couldn't work having been intimately involved for decades with the army, with the defence force. In that sense it doesn't surprise me to hear it, but to hear it in isolation from this background, from Mandela, would be really amazing. Have you got him to say that again? Mandela?

POM     Well I said to Ayob, "You go back to him and take him through the story again."

MS     You said to Ayob?

POM     Yes.

MS     I thought you said Ayob had said so to you.

POM     No, no, Ayob got it from Mandela and I said, "Listen, to me that's a story until you go back and say Madiba, listen, you some time ago mentioned to me, I want to make sure that I heard it right." Otherwise it's just like has anyone else, did he tell it to anybody else? I never heard it before.

MS     I haven't either. Was this with the Bophuthatswana thing, when that was going on?

POM     Yes. Where I know Mac for one was very convinced that the army was going to reinstate Mangope and stayed with Meiring, stood by his side as he personally delivered a message to Mangope that his time was up.

MS     Mac went there. It amazes me, for anybody to have thought at the time that it would be possible for the army to do something like that. It's unthinkable. We had a conscript army then, with conscripts you can't do something like that. If you've got one or two commandos that are perhaps totally right wing and would be involved but they will have less right wing people inside their own ranks and the majority of them wouldn't have participated. The Citizen Force certainly wouldn't have because those were conventional formations and they've got doctors and lawyers and bankers and things as officers. How can you ever think that they will do a thing like that? Totally unrealistic to have expected that.

POM     Over time did the NIS make assessments of (i) what the changing demographic patterns of the country meant, (ii) projections of the manpower needed to maintain security levels, (iii) where that manpower would come from, that at some point in fact you've reached the point of where blacks were becoming officers in the military, no longer confined to the lower ranks, and what were the implications of that?

MS     I know that a survey was made by a private consultant, I can't remember the name, but they seemed to be very, extremely, sophisticated in that. For instance, surveying new settlements by aerial photography and calculating numbers and things like that. That was sponsored by the armed and security forces, ourselves included, but what the upshot of that was, what the result was I don't know. I never saw that. But there was an effort made. What came of it I don't know.

POM     So how did you get involved in the negotiations? You were involved - like Niel Barnard was involved as FW's personal advisor?

MS     At that stage of the first meetings, as I have said, I was Chief Director of Operations and our people in foreign countries were under my jurisdiction. We needed them for the logistics of the meetings, etc., security and logistics, that was my part of the ship to arrange that. But after the first meetings I was transferred to the, seconded to the Constitutional Development Service also with a view to – that's one thing that hasn't been told yet, there was a huge effort by the government to involve even far right political groupings, commit them into the process of negotiations. I went to the Constitutional Development Service specifically for that purpose to try and involve as many of the political groupings big and small and even individuals in the negotiating process and I spoke to everybody from the PAC to the very far right. I never got to the AWB but I got to plenty of these other right wing groups that eventually didn't come in. That's why for three years I was with Constitutional Development, the job they said was Chief Director Negotiations Support, the secretarial services of all these little groups meeting and all the bigger groups, etc., were my responsibility and at CODESA I became the Joint, with Mo Shaik, the Joint Security Manager of the negotiations. First CODESA 1 which had only about one meeting and then CODESA 2 and then the MPNP as they called it, again involving our people from a security point of view.

POM     When you say from a security point of view, that is on issues relating to negotiations about what the security would be in a new dispensation?

MS     That's why I was involved in negotiations as such but also responsible for the security and safety of the negotiators and the venue and all that.

POM     So when whatsisname - ?

MS     I wasn't there for that. Eugene Terre'Blanche.

POM     I had some interviews with him.

MS     Have you? You had interviews?

POM     I did about five, yes. He was somebody who tried to use his body, his sheer bulk to intimidate you but in the end all you wanted to do was to laugh at him. He had nothing to say at all.

MS     Terrible. He became a figure of fun, falling off his horse.

POM     Well he's now in jail, right?

MS     Yes.

POM     He said to me on one occasion, I would say to him, "Where will things be this time next year when I see you again?" And on the first occasion I remember him saying, "I will either be in Union Buildings or I'll be in jail." Well it took a bit longer for him to get into jail but -  

     I'm trying to establish, Mac sees Niel Barnard as kind of the evil genius who had written a paper. I keep saying, "Mac, you've got to come up with the paper." He'd written a paper outlining the concept of a dual strategy that this is the way the government could best play its cards. That's a figment of his imagination?

MS     I've never seen that.

POM     Were the security forces kept informed? Was there a process of keeping the security forces informed as to what was happening in the negotiations so they were in the loop?

MS     Absolutely. You know we had this Policy Group that I told you about. The Policy Group for Reform.

POM     That's Roelf Meyer's group, or he chaired it.

MS     Yes. Roelf was in fact Minister of Defence together with being Minister of Constitutional Development for while.

POM     And then he was deputy to Viljoen.

MS     After that he became Minister of Defence, then he came back as Minister of Constitutional Development but they were concurrent at one stage, he was Defence and Constitutional Development. But their senior officers, their top officers sat on this group, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Commissioner of Police and they were present also at the cabinet meetings where the recommendations of the Policy Group were considered by cabinet. They were kept abreast all the time, they were there. Whether they gave it through downwards I wouldn't know. I suspect not, you know, especially the police, because when we brought the exiles back clandestinely at night through the basement of Jan Smuts Airport and things like that, the police were still saying they've got warrants for the arrest of these people, amongst others Thabo Mbeki, and if they saw them on the street they'd arrest them. We took them to a safe house of ours on the outskirts of Pretoria and kept them there. Then they went to a hotel near Lanseria Airport, all still under cover.

POM     Wasn't this a little bit of policy?

MS     I'm not sure because there was great embarrassment amongst the President and some cabinet ministers at the attitude of the police. Old Adriaan Vlok was then still Minister of Safety & Security.

POM     Maybe this is because I don't know the way these structures worked. Did FW not say, "Adriaan, get your bloody house in order. I'm President, we're negotiating with the ANC. We've got to bring them back into the country and just tear up those warrants"?

MS     That's what one would have expected. PW would have done that, he would have done that.

POM     What you're doing in the process of this talk today is you're painting a picture of a President who after his leap of faith or whatever, spiritual leap or whatever, kind of almost then became ineffective and didn't know what to do or how to proceed?

MS     And when he did proceed he proceeded wrongly I thought, firing those officers, especially some of them. No substance to that whole report on many of the people, or some of the people that he fired but certainly at the time he wasn't in control. No doubt about that.

POM     He wasn't in control?

MS     He wasn't in control of the system that he was the head of. I've told you the story that he was angry when we came back and we reported that we'd been speaking to the ANC.

POM     This is when you briefed him?

MS     Yes. But then Mike Louw likes to say that as soon as he realised what was going on he took the ball and ran with it, but I've never thought so and I've said so to Mike. I don't think so, I think he was pushed with the ball by events. He simply tried to steer the events and he once said to Mike Louw as well, I wasn't there, he said he's been dealt a hand of cards which he can't, like in poker, discard some of them and get new ones, he had to play the hand that he had. I am still convinced that he was a reluctant reformer but a very keen mind and a tactician par excellence but he's not a statesman, except that he later on did his best to make things work, with hiccups such as withdrawing from the government of national unity. He was a great tactician but no strategist.

POM     Give me an example of something that would merit your description of him as a great tactician?

MS     Well the fact that he knew after we'd started talking to the ANC that there was nothing that he could do about it at that stage and he adjusted himself and he positioned himself in the leadership seat which he retained until he became Vice President against his own instincts. When he realised that there was something going on that he could do nothing about he joined it because there was nothing else he could do tactically.

POM     Well this is in a sense not a great tactician, it's somebody who kind of looked in the mirror and said I've two choices, I can do nothing about this situation, I can't stop it therefore I have to either leave or join it. Were many of his decisions influenced by his own desire to retain the leadership of his party or did he realise that if he lost the leadership of his party the whole process would fall apart and therefore that his strategy, in a sense, was not to allow things to fall apart? Or am I being too generous?

MS     I don't think he thought – obviously he would have thought of it but by tactician I mean personal tactician. I may be unfair and I must concede that but I think FW as most politicians are, is exceedingly concerned about his place in history and I think his Nobel Prize vindicates to him, vindicates everything that he did. That's what I mean by tactician, by adjusting his own position to the circumstances as they arose and retaining control of his cabinet, partially at least. Many of them have left the NP, like Tertius Delport for instance. I don't think FW, he's been hailed as this great reformer and he's not that, he's never been that. He managed the situation that he got but I never got any impression of great enthusiasm or whatever.

POM     FW, was he hands on in terms of the negotiations?

MS     Two things are significant I think. The first was when he was uncertain about the defence force he appointed Roelf Meyer, he was just about the most junior cabinet minister, as Minister of Defence. When Gerrit Viljoen left Constitutional Development he again appointed Roelf Meyer, again one of the most junior cabinet ministers, which gives rise to the thought that he wanted someone expendable whom he could discard more easily than he could Gerrit Viljoen or Magnus Malan at Defence and that he in a sense was perhaps surprised by what Meyer achieved in this Policy Group which was the main driving force from the government side on the negotiations. It didn't work out that way but he did later on discard Roelf Meyer from the NP because, amongst others, the connivances of Marthinus van Schalkwyk who always regarded Roelf as his main antagonist and would dearly have wanted to replace him, which he did after De Klerk made it impossible for Meyer to stay in the NP. I will give you my book.

POM     OK, I've taken up my two hours. I'd like to give you the rest of the day. Thank you.

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.