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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
16 Oct 1997: Maharaj, Mac
POM Thank you for all the help you gave at Arniston, just personally thank you. I also thank you on behalf of all of the people who attended there. I think the contribution made was a significant one and one that in fact was instrumental in loosening two things, one that it was a factor in the IRA deciding to call a cease-fire because both Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly are both members of the IRA Army Council so they were there in a dual role and they heard very straightly that what negotiations are about as distinct from continuing conflict, you can't have conflict, and they heard from the President very, very clearly. And the other one was with the Unionists that it was hammered away at them the whole time that this whole question of the decommissioning of arms is a red herring and ironically I think it was Constand Viljoen who may have been the influential person there because he kept telling them and they kept looking at him and saying, well he's not supposed to be saying that to us, and they gave up, they parked the issue and David Trimble moved into talks.
Before the talks re-opened I spent two days over there re-hammering the same messages over and over again and part of the arrangement made on how to break the ice was a variation of the South African way. It was arranged that they would go in to meet and sit face to face with Sinn Fein for the first time across the table but they would only go in for 30 seconds to make their demands and then they would leave. I said that's fine, once you get face to face that's it and you can come back the next day and hear the ruling, and so things proceed. I hope you will keep involved and talk to Valli about follow-up, the parties there have talked about follow-ups. I think you have an immense role to play in the way it was played before, low key, with the approval of governments, but what the Sinn Fein and IRA have got to learn now is that the enemy they are dealing with is not the British but the enemy they have to deal with is their fellow countrymen.
MM Well I thought Tony Blair has made some interesting moves. It should help to begin to listen to that one too.
POM But I talked to Valli about bringing small groups of people over here, like IRA people and Unionists, so they would just get to know each other with one or two of you around being a host for a day or an evening, a night, just loosening things up and letting them get to know each other. Again, thank you. I am proud of what you guys did. I will always remember Cyril's great remark, Cyril told me the first day, "Padraig", he said, "Don't worry, give me 24 hours and I will have all these people under the same roof." On the third day before he left Cyril was going around muttering, saying, "Christ, they're as bad as we were and we were never this bloody bad!" which I thought was interesting.
However, to get on to my South African stuff, switching hats very quickly. I have a number of questions and a number of them relate to Patti Waldmeir's book which I took 80 pages of notes on, which I won't refer to. I've just come from talking to FW de Klerk and one of the things I brought up with him, because I'm trying to establish at least a common basis of what happened around a particular incident, and that is the incident of where at the meeting for the Record of Understand was thrashed out that Mandela called the line on the release of political prisoners and particularly on Robert McBride. She quotes him as saying, "Here is where we hold the line." This is where we put this chappie in his line and you are kicking him under the table, according to her account saying -
MM Oh, that's the Cyril incident.
POM Not with Cyril, it's the one with Mandela and De Klerk.
MM Mandela and De Klerk is slightly different. We had negotiated the content of the Record of Understanding and we had arrived at the formulations and the meeting was due the next day, I can't remember which day of the week. We then went to brief the President at Shell House. Now in that briefing, that was about five in the afternoon, we briefed the President that we thought there was an unlocking on the release of political prisoners because that process had entered into a tortuous part and the President said to us, the issue that he raised was, when do the releases start? So we said that would take place after the signing and he disagreed with us. He thought that some releases should be made even before the meeting started to formally sign the Record of Understanding. The second issue was that he asked us which prisoners would be released and that's where the McBride name came up. Now I distinctly remember Cyril in the room, Cyril, Slovo, myself, and the President then said, "Now hold on", he phoned FW. FW was in some meeting because when FW was brought to the phone he said he was meeting Kobie Coetsee and others, so he was playing for time. And the President said, "No, we can't just meet over words, there has got to be a visible release and in that release there must be Robert McBride and that release must happen before we meet tomorrow." That led to a whole series, back and forth the phone calls from Madiba because he asked FW when will he be ready because he said he was consulting, will he be OK in an hour's time? Yes.An hour's time FW didn't call and he called back, Madiba called back and that type of call was being made while we sat there in Madiba's office till past seven or eight that night.
Now it is in the context of this that I think Patti says that some of us became very worried, Cyril, Slovo and I got very worried. That's not the tapping of the legs because there were no hostile people in the office but we even joked about it because we could hear Madiba's discussion, what Madiba was saying, and the fear that came into me was that the principle was agreed, now was it worth sacrificing the Record of Understanding, were we not calling the shots too hard? And we remarked to Madiba when he came back from the phone at different times, and said wait a minute, wait a minute, there is a significant advance in this Record of Understanding and it enables the resumption of party political negotiations, aren't we going too far, what if De Klerk refuses? Because Madiba was saying to him on the phone, "There is no point even meeting over the Record of Understanding tomorrow to sign it, you have got to release and you've got to release by tomorrow morning. I will only walk into that room to meet you after some release has started." That is where I say psychologically, in my view looking into the process, it was a psychological verification that the balance had shifted because at the end of that FW agreed to the release of McBride. Now that's checkable, that's checkable because my memory today as I'm speaking to you says that McBride was released the next morning and we met, I think, at the World Trade Centre later that morning but already comrades had gone to process the releases of McBride and others.
POM But do you see it, given your concerns, sacrificed for what, when in principle things had been agreed on, that De Klerk may have used the very reasoning that you're using and saying we have gone so far towards agreement on the Record of Understanding that over the matter of releasing somebody tomorrow morning or not releasing, I won't let that stand in the way?
MM No. It must be put against the background that the negotiations process had collapsed at CODESA and over Boipatong because the perception had grown amongst us that the regime, we never said so, I may have said it here and there in that period of the exchange of the Memorandum, we may have said it in the Memorandum, but they were not negotiating in good faith. What they were doing was trying to destroy the ANC. Having agreed to negotiations the violence had been escalating and we were pointing to a third force existing and De Klerk was saying, produce me proof, and our evidence was accumulating that the state was involved. The release of political prisoners had become a tortuous process and people were languishing still in jail. Our own people reacting to the violence were saying, where's the proof? What are you delivering except words, promises that we will go on?
What did the Record of Understanding say? It reaffirmed a two-stage process in the negotiations that what would be agreed would be an interim constitution and that a final constitution would be drafted by an elected Constitutional Assembly, a Constituent Assembly. So there would be two constitutions, one where a thoroughly democratic process through an elected process would constitute the delegates and the multiparty negotiations where any party who says I am a party were sitting at the table, whether you were a surrogate of the regime or not, where the numerical preponderance was parties that had grown up and been spawned by the apartheid system. Now it agreed on that principle, that's a promise for the future. The violence, we had insisted that the hostels should be secured and people couldn't move out. De Klerk had been resisting. The question of carrying arms in public with demonstrations, De Klerk was saying "I can't", but he had revoked the law which prohibited carrying of weapons in 1992 or 1993 which made it possible for the IFP to have its so-called supporters going rampaging. We were saying ban the carrying of weapons, fence the hostels, upgrade the hostels yes but fence them so that there is control, there is no longer this excuse of we don't know where these hordes appear from. Boipatong was telling us that the police were involved in sheltering those hostel dwellers coming through to attack Boipatong. Now, again, whatever agreement, nobody could see a fence going up, you couldn't put up the fence, and De Klerk was saying over the weapons thing that it's a legal thing and we have got to examine the law and the law advisers have got to sit over it before I can do it. Now again it would be a statement of intention. The third element was the political prisoners, and what was the fourth element of the Record of Understanding? There were just about four issues.
POM You've touched on the main ones.
MM Yes, those were the main ones. What I'm saying, Padraig, is from the point of view of the masses that agreement was not showing something tangible that shows a movement. We knew, I was clear, that it had tilted the balance in the negotiations in that the signing of the Record of Understanding, agreeing to a Constitutional Assembly to do the final constitution through an elected body. Number two the principle of fencing the hostels was going to drive a wedge between the National Party and the IFP. Now that was a gain, to me, at a tactical level, but I couldn't go out to the public and shout about that gain. If I made that interpretation I would actually enhance the capacity of the two to come back so I was weighing that against the tangible things. Madiba, in my view, was also assessing that in the dealings with FW he had reached a point where he felt that FW was being dishonest with him over the violence and he now wanted to assert a relationship which would make De Klerk do it, if he had agreed in principle to release Robert McBride on Monday why couldn't he do it if we sat down and processed right through the night and got him out by nine o'clock, and he sensed that it was achievable. That merely underscored both our constituency but it locked into the whole question of the relationship between the NP and the IFP, that any statement by the NP to meet the IFP, and say, no don't worry, those are words, we will work together. They would say, but you released these people, how can we trust you?
Now the incident you are referring to about the under the table kick is part of the Record of Understanding but it affects the balance of relationship as translated through the relationship of Roelf and Cyril. In the preliminaries leading up to the Record of Understanding we were locked in the channel discussions and I am saying that an incident arose over the channel discussions which underlined how this balance was shifting. There was an outburst across the table between Roelf and Cyril and Cyril began to up the stakes in that outburst to the point where Roelf actually got up from the table, closed his file and got up and was semi-standing, meaning end of talks if this is the relationship because it had started off with intransigence from Roelf which had been accumulating over days of meetings over technicalities, we can't release, but this, but that, fencing not feasible, we're throwing it into a working group and why the Constitutional Assembly, we are committed to the CODESA Declaration. So all these debates were going on and Roelf had become somewhat aggressive that morning and made a loose remark, I cannot remember the exact remark at the moment, but which gave Cyril the chance to accuse him of thinking in the same racist mode. Now as the clash began to go on and I sense the possibility of the talks breaking, I was now trying to signal to Cyril to cool it, we've driven our point. Well, I think that's my assessment at that moment which I thought I should communicate to him, but he ignored my assessment because he had made a different one and he persisted with his attack.
On the other side of the table I believe that Fanie van der Merwe did exactly what I was doing to Cyril. Perhaps Fanie even wrote a note to Roelf indicating, cool down, find some way to lower the temperature but don't walk out. So we resumed without any apologies or anything, just a little bit of backtrack. I am saying that that incident was a turning point in that relationship too because it now meant that we had cleared the decks and in fairness to Roelf never again did a remark arise in our discussions which cast aspersions on us on grounds of race or colour. But that's not the important thing. The important thing was that the psychological relationship had changed. We were gradually dictating the pace of what is discussed, how it is discussed and where it ends up.
That wasn't the end of the story because now as we went on and finalised the Record of Understanding, had settled the hostel fencing, when the meeting took place finally between Madiba and FW, when we reached the hostels FW said, "I do not sign documents without knowing the contents. I have not seen the report, the detailed report on the hostels question. In general I am sympathetic to what you are raising. Can we leave it out of the Record of Understanding and attend to it later?" But we had already collected inside information that the cabinet had in fact discussed it the night before, fully, and that De Klerk was acquainted with the detailed report and we had slipped a note to Madiba to say this is going to come up today as the meeting goes on and we predict FW is going to try and wriggle out, don't let him, we have information that they have discussed it and that they are divided. So when we reached this item and FW made this speech Madiba very calmly simply said, "Well Mr President we can go on the way you are suggesting but when we leave this room and we meet the media I will have to pronounce this meeting a failure. Whatever else we have agreed I will pronounce it a failure." FW then said, "Let's discuss this matter a little later in the agenda." So Madiba said "Fine, we'll discuss it later." When tea break arose I was watching who FW would talk to. Amongst others he talked to Kriel who was a hardliner. We came back into the meeting and we proceeded with the rest of the agenda and FW didn't mention the hostels. We were nearing more or less completion and lunch time was approaching so there was nothing new in the agenda and FW was forced to return to the hostel question because he had said let's come back.
POM Who forced him? Did he bring it up himself?
MM We had cleared the Constitutional Assembly, we had cleared the release question and we had shelved for later the hostels question.
POM So did you say, Mr President now we've got the hostel question?
MM No, no. We just left the silence to prevail. Madiba was clear. We had exchanged views amongst us also during the tea break. We had said now watch him, he's talking to Kriel, he doesn't know how to get out of this jam. In the meantime Roelf and a number of us were exchanging views, Leon Wessels, how to get the thing going. Then we said but we've agreed on everything, the working group, if there is a problem on a particular part of this agreement, on the annexure, let's put up a working group while the principles are meeting and sort it out. And we were receiving confirming signals from every way that there is conflict in the Nats. So when the agenda was more or less completed, a pregnant silence, we don't want to remind him, we want to see what he's going to do because Madiba has said (it must be resolved). De Klerk said, "Can I suggest that while we are having a lunch break that a working group is put together to look at that agreement?" Because he has still got to put up the pretence that he has not seen the details. And Madiba said, "Fine, name the working group, you name your side and we'll name our side." Now we had already picked up and we had planted this idea in Roelf and Leon Wessels. The moment they agreed and lunch break came I went up to Roelf or Wessels, "Who's going to be there? Because if you're sending Kriel there that's a collapse." And they said, "No, no don't worry, it's all on track, we're coming." So I said, "OK, whichever group is meeting I am coming there just to see", and I said, "Can Roelf be there or Leon be there just before they sit down to start working? Let's make sure that they've got a common commitment to find a solution to whatever obstacles there are." So we met then at lunch time, cleared the work, hardly any alteration to the content.
POM Who was there?
MM Billy Cobbet would have been the leading man from our side on the details, the leading person from our group. I think I sat in on the working group for a while, not for all the time. Wessels was there for some time. I don't remember who they put, some other people from the civil service who I wasn't familiar with. They addressed the whole agreement once more because calling them together we said go through it well and the problem areas, flag them, if it's a formulation problem let's see if we cannot re-formulate it, if it's a substantive content problem let's look at it, and report to us if you have not finalised. They finalised it and we met after lunch and we agreed and FW now had to sign the agreement that hostels would be fenced, upgraded, and the arms thing - I think there was an agreement also which of course they never carried out. They were drawing the proclamation.
POM Again according to Patti, after the Record of Understanding was signed she quotes Joe Slovo as saying to her, "They caved in on everything." Now was this issue of, in the end, and Van Zyl Slabbert says it in his book with Heribert Adam, he has this quotation which says: -
"When the chips were down Afrikaners meekly handed over power without even seriously attempting to bargain any special group privileges. They even agreed to simple majority rule."
"Affluent Afrikaners sold out the poor Afrikaners because they felt more confident of their ability to either survive in or leave the 'new' South Africa."
"De Klerk's negotiators were really a part of Mandela's team facilitating the transition to majority rule."
MM I don't agree with that. As an encapsulating remark at the end of the process in the sense that the final agreement registered on issues which in his mind he thought would be intractable, he had himself been the key architect of the sunset clauses but how they would spell out was another question because we were deeply worried about it ourselves and by going public on our sunset clauses proposals we were telling the other side of the levels to which we were prepared to compromise. So Slovo's remark must be taken in that context, as an overall assessment of the content of the solution. But to say that they simply caved in along the line would be to misinterpret the negotiation process. When the negotiations resumed there were lots of very difficult negotiations to go on. It was a shock for some of us who sat around the table often, and certainly I kept asking - where is their bottom line? It was a shock as we negotiated details now with the resumption of talks to gradually wake up to the realisation that it was a very narrow self-interest that was their bottom line. The civil service, pensions, everything affected their pensions, and they could not crudely say guarantee us, the politicians, our pensions. But it was a very important perception as a guide for some of us because once we understood that bottom line we realised that what we had put up in public documents as the possible sunset areas and we feared that by putting it up it would have been revealing our bottom line so that they would try to push us a little below that, gave us a counter-balancing understanding that their bottom line was so base that on substantive issues we could drive them. So that process was not a short one. I think the multiparty process went on for a year.
POM I suppose what I'm trying to get at, Mac, is that it was a negotiating process, it wasn't a matter of one side caving in and getting its way.
MM But the issue of driving them back it was their bottom line. Slovo's relief was the formula about the government of national unity. They put up every possible proposal, they put up the idea of a troika that would be a superior council. We knocked it down. They came back and said let's divide the government departments into clusters, key clusters, economic, this, that, security, and let's make sure that cabinet posts will be delivered to each partner in each category, meaning they must be in each category. And we said never, but we didn't say never in a rude way. We negotiated to show its unacceptability and impracticality but it was still telling us, aha, this is what they want, they want to be placed in every strategic post, that's what these clusters are about, and that is to deny us the results of the elections in that cabinet. And we fought against that. Slovo's relief is that over the cabinet and how it would make decisions they were looking at percentages then. Then we said, no. And one night Cyril called Roelf, Fanie, Niel Barnard, myself and we said OK, how do we solve this problem? This was now 15 November or somewhere round there, 17. A major hurdle, is this going to be a democratic cabinet or is it going to have minority powers, veto powers? Now that is where the post-amble came in because we discussed the cabinet decision making and said there is no way we've got a settlement except that the cabinet will decide by majority, a simple majority. Our commitment to the government of national unity is a real one which cannot be resolved by veto power, that would be a minority. And we offered a post-amble which would be committed to national unity and reconciliation, and Roelf said, "Well let's look at the post-amble. What are you suggesting?" And they said, OK, Fanie and Mac draft this thing, draft something that takes the spirit into account. Fanie and I drafted it and we resumed once more, it was in the NP offices, while the negotiators were sitting on one side still talking away. We drafted it and we said, we didn't even say it was a post-amble at that stage, this is what we have to insert in the constitution and said this takes into account the concerns you are expressing, our concerns and commits us to reconciliation. Now, are we agreed now on the cabinet decision making rules? And they said OK.
POM Roelf said OK?
POM Now he had to take that to FW?
MM He would have to sell it, but we said, "Is this a deal?" and he said he is prepared to support it. Then we said, "OK where do we fit it in?" We said you can't fit it in at the beginning of the constitution. And he said, "Well, why not a post-amble?" We said OK it will be a post-amble, it will be a part of the constitution but it was linked to the settlement on cabinet in another part of the constitution. Then we were able to say settle. Now that I regarded as a cave-in. I think Slovo saw it as a collapse because he never in his mind believed that they would abandon that point because when we came out and said that we've got a solution and he read it he couldn't believe it. He never in his mind entertained the possibility that we would get majority cabinet making decisions and he was preparing for what formula would give the Nats something that they can go with as to how cabinet takes decisions whereas by this post-amble route we created a trade-off that settled it.
POM I know you're going to have to run in less than five minutes but you have to eat your sandwiches first. You can't meet a High Commissioner while you're gobbling a sandwich. You can do this with an Irishman.
MM So, Padraig, that's what I'm saying.
POM One of the things that interests me is, and I've brought it up with FW and it comes up again and again, is that Roelf had kind of accepted the inevitability of majority rule early on and that in a way De Klerk had the wrong negotiator in the sense that if we're playing chess and I already accept that you're going to win I am really playing for a draw. In other words you're already psychologically ahead of me.
MM No, but we had agreed to sunset clauses. So as a chess player we were already saying, where are our retreat lines?
POM So those who said afterwards, again quoting Patti, that the Afrikaners folded in and became -
MM They still had their places in the security forces, they still had their hold in the economy and the real issue was -
POM We didn't need to make those concessions.
MM Everything had been stacked in such a way that everything ...and what would have stood out starkly in the public mind and the international mind, is this what you're breaking the talks about? Are you really determined to keep Afrikaner power entrenched? It would have been an indefensible position in the public mind and Roelf understood that. He understood that the international community, their erstwhile supporters, could not support them if the talks had broken down, everything else having been agreed but this point. It was an indefensible point for them to defend publicly. That was a judgement call that he made, not a cave-in. In the meantime he had factored in, yes the security forces are intact, our position in the economy is intact and if we can create this government of national unity they will depend on our expertise as Afrikaners. So I don't think it was a cave-in. That will arise. But the process as we devised it left everything agreed and pigeon-holed but left a very stark issue as the point at which now you cannot agree. Nobody would have forgiven them for not agreeing to a cabinet that decides in a normal cabinet way. It would have been too stark that you are determined to hang on to your privileges.
POM Thank you.