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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

06 Dec 1999: Maharaj, Mac

POM     You had just made the point that in the negotiating process where you were reaching out to the public at the same time that the paramount importance of sending out a message that reaches across your own constituency and reaches all constituencies and also reassures the opponent's constituency too and that one of the ANC's successes was that it always framed its messages in terms of the whole country, what would be good for the whole country whereas the NP always framed its messages as to what was good for its own constituency and that was one of the major differences in the two ways you dealt with – not that you persuaded many white people but that you stood for the broader public interest, not your own narrow or your section of interest. Just taking that as a starting point, with all the time that you have spent in negotiations what would you say are the indispensable ingredients of a successful negotiating process?

MM     I would like to go back to Mandela's letter to PW Botha because it contained a very simple model and I like simple models, I don't ignore the complexities. In that letter in seeking to persuade PW Botha to negotiate and meet the ANC he makes the point that on one side this country cannot move and cannot envisage a condition of peace amongst its people unless it moved to a situation of democracy based on majority rule. Now that was a frightening concept for any other parties in South Africa especially the ruling party. In fact it took the words 'majority rule' and made 'majoritarianism' a swear word. But having stated that as the basic necessity of this country for peace, stability and movement forward, he said of course this has got to deal in moving that way, we have to deal with the fears and concerns of the white minority and he said the truth is going to be how we deal with those fears and concerns and how we then ensure that we realise democracy. I think that's the critical element. The ANC of course had an advantage that historically it sought to couch its message as covering all South Africans, black and white, without apologising for the fact that it was representing the black oppressed interest. But it showed that the black oppressed interest in moving for democracy was in the interest of everybody else.

     If you look at the negotiating process, what of the position of all the other parties that were of significance? The National Party, unfortunately because it was pursuing a twin-track strategy of saying it's inevitable, we have to talk to the ANC but while we're talking to them let's implement also a strategy of undermining the ANC.

POM     The dual strategy.

MM     The dual strategy.

POM     Referred to by?

MM     By Niel Barnard. Now precisely because it was following those twin tracks whatever it tried to say as if it was in the interests of the country as a whole, quickly you could discern and expose its inner core as being a mechanism to preserve white minority rule. What was the IFP saying? The IFP was saying: I represent Zulus, and it never found a way to explain that those Zulu interests conformed to the larger interests of the country. What was Constand Viljoen saying? He was saying: I represent Afrikaner interests and the NP has sold out of those interests. So if you take these three as the three other key players in the process, the other three did not have a clear message except that it rested on a very narrow base.

POM     The other three being? That's the NP, the IFP and?

MM     And Constand Viljoen. All the others were insignificant, Oupa Gqozo, Ciskei, nothing, just pawns in this game. But I am saying that the three on one side had narrow and/or confused messages. Each of them, their particular messages constrained them from speaking in the interests of the entire population. The ANC had the advantage to be able to speak because it had previously spoken consistently but in that phase of negotiations one of the key lessons is, Madiba said at Arniston, you don't negotiate with your friends, you negotiate with your enemy.But there's a second lesson in negotiations. You want to sit around a table with representatives of constituencies such that they are strong enough that when you have reached agreement they can go to their respective constituencies and persuade them to agree to the deal that you have just signed at the table. If you can't do that negotiations are in constant turmoil. You agree on one thing and you go out of the room and your constituencies, because you are afraid to give them real leadership, retaliate. So you've got to bear in mind that critical problem when you are the critical player in the negotiating process. You can't put that issue at the doorstep of the smaller parties. It's an issue that you've got to raise as the larger force of things because when you embrace it you create a space for the other parties to realise that around the negotiating table are real issues facing the country, that you are as a political force determined to remain in the terrain as a force and grow and that's a legitimate desire but that at the same time you are rivals in a process and in the outcome each of you hope to survive and grow bigger. So I think that's a key problem to understand those interests and not to gain quick, cheap, political advantage because when you gain cheap political advantage what you do is you drive the process back into the old mode.

     In the South African situation the breakdown at CODESA, clearly the NP interests of that breakdown became exposed as wanting to maintain a grip, have a veto power by those percentage votes. And the ANC could have just rejected it as a negative thing, as anti-democratic. But if the ANC rejected it it had to do it in a particular way ensuring that the constituency beyond the ANC constituency would be sympathetic to our point of view, would understand it. When the next phase came with the violence and the breakdown and the channel was set up, the Roelf/Cyril channel was set up, this was in a context when we had walked out of the talks, not the NP, but we were the ones that took the initiative between Cyril and Roelf to keep talking and Mandela was the man who said, "Cyril, you've got to reach out, you've got to keep talking because we've walked away from the table but it does not mean we've walked away from negotiations. Negotiations have got to resume but the issues that have made us walk away and that are a stumbling block in the process need to be addressed so that we can get back to the table as quickly as possible."

     Whatdoes that tell us? In the negotiation process while each party is seeking to carry its own constituency and is trapped by internal problems and dynamics of its constituency, the key players have got to keep finding ways to keep the channel open because they've got to understand that unless the negotiations are resumed the country is in trouble, you're just back to square one. And in doing that there is need not to try and replace the negotiating process with some bilateral process, there is need to be very clear that the bilateral process has got a common commitment that it is looking at the stumbling blocks in order that the multiparty negotiations resume. If that view is shared by the people engaged in that type of discussion then they have found a framework but if the issue is resolved the other way, which is very tempting, to hell with that complicated process that was taking place in the World Trade Centre with 19 political parties, let's just two of us sort it out. What you would have done is you would have taken the confidentiality of discussions that have taken place and changed them and made them into secret discussions and by the very nature of that secrecy you would have undermined the democratic process of trying to empower the mass of the population. You would have reduced issues to horse trading in smoke rooms. And I think that there are critical lessons involved in that process.

POM     I remember both Cyril and Roelf in Belfast addressing the need for transparency and openness in the process. Now how do you equate that with the necessity on occasion to make a deal more or less behind closed doors? By that I mean in a process being transparent and open there is a third player and that's the media because they are reporting it and so each party is playing to the media, trying to put its particular spin on things which tend to make them less honest than they might have been in negotiations so that the impression the public get, or the masses get, of what is going on is filtered through the lens of the media and is therefore distorted. It's like the Heisenberg Principle, the act of observing something changes the nature of the thing being observed. How do you cut the balance where, yes, transparency and, yes, on some occasions that when the leaders had the capacity to carry their constituencies with them or believe they do, that it may be necessary on highly sensitive matters to do it on a one-to-one basis behind a closed door because otherwise there would be so many voices heard that agreement would never be reached.

MM     We cannot avoid the fact that in such conflict resolution you are dealing with political parties, each of them with constituencies. Now when the talks broke down at CODESA and the intervening period when the channel was set up, if my memory serves me right it was also a period accompanied by a very high public campaign by the ANC which was called by Allister Sparks 'the war of the memoranda'. De Klerk's party had written to the ANC accusing us of all sorts of things. Now it was a letter sent by the NP. The ANC because it was conscious of the public arena responded to those memoranda with very, very vigorous memoranda but each time it couched its response, it took it to a special media briefing. It took it to its own membership to brief them what it had replied but it also specifically used to have virtually at the drop of a hat a media briefing where 20, 30 media people would turn up and it would give them the response and it would work through the response with them so that they understood it. It would say, we have just replied, this is the reply going but we are giving you a briefing now so that you understand this memorandum, so that when the embargo is lifted on the memorandum you understand what we are saying. Right? So on one side a war of memoranda was going on and the purpose of that war of the memoranda was to keep the public mind focused on the basic issues of the content of democracy, attack the NP vigorously.

     Parallel with that were talks going on between Cyril and Roelf Meyer and teams were assembled behind the two gentlemen. Very little was said in the public arena about that. Nothing ever was said about what are the issues going on and by the time the media picked up that such confidential discussions were going on we maintained our position of the confidentiality of those discussions right up to the time we came to the Record of Understanding. So I am saying, Mandela made a distinction in a very simplistic way and he distinguishes between secret talks and confidential talks. Where does this fit into transparency? It fits in on the basis that don't neglect the public positions, ensure that what you are discussing confidentially is not a betrayal of those public positions, so never state your public positions in such a way that they leave no room for compromise. Three, don't turn those confidential discussions to agreements which you cannot put before the public at the appropriate time. Secret negotiations are hidden things which are incapable of being put in terms of the principle of transparency at the right time before the public. We put the Record of Understanding before the public, articulating what had been discussed between the channel at the time when the agreement could be signed between the two parties in the public arena, saying yes there have been these discussions going on, this is the agreement and it is fully consonant with the declaration at CODESA. It's not undermining that and we are saying these two parties have reached a deadlock position which had brought the multiparty talks to a collapse. They have gone on quietly talking to each other in order to get the talks back on track and these are the three or four issues which were holding back and they are now satisfied that they have reached a point where they can motivate for the resumption of the multiparty talks. The IFP then accused this of being secret talks and we said there's nothing secret about it, there is no agreement that we have not put here in the Record of Understanding that is hidden away in some drawer. Everything that has been agreed is there before you.

     So we come back to transparency. Transparency is not a slavish mechanism that requires you to say minute by minute, ball by ball what is happening but it does say you have an obligation never to reach an agreement which you are going to hide in some secret drawer which you have reached, which is going to guide the way you conduct yourself at the negotiations because each one will whisper to the other - sorry, I've got something to blackmail you with, you are now shifting from that position. So I don't see transparency as a commentary and a revelation, ball by ball, minute by minute what is happening but I see the place for secret and distinguishing secret agreements and confidential talks and confidential talks must reach a point where the content of those discussions can be put in the public arena, facilitating the larger process of conflict resolution, not as undermining it. Secret agreements would undermine it and violate the principle of transparency. Complicated answer. Am I dancing in the middle?

POM     Other lessons? Is trust an important issue?

MM     I have been on record as saying trust was never an issue for me. In the public arena the idea that people are talking to each other on the basis of trust is an important thing to shift the mindset of people but for me as an individual involved in the negotiation process and part of a team I never approached FW from the point of view do I trust him or don't I. I accepted that he will try and slip something past us. I did not accept that if he said to me, listen, I am a democrat, that then I must believe him. I accepted that in the nature of what he represents, the interests that he represents, he will seek to put something in the fine print or elsewhere that would undermine what we were heading for.

     So trust is not the issue for me. What is important is that you recognise that you are rivals sitting at a table, that you are seeking an outcome which will give you as a particular political force greater space to gain advantage from it but that you conduct yourself in such a way that no matter how much heat is generated at the moment you are constantly keeping your eye on the ball, that you are not engaged in negotiations simply to bring it to an end so that you can revert to the earlier status quo. You really want to move out of the cycle of conflict and violence. As long as that commitment is there, and that too doesn't get born overnight, it's got to be nursed by each other so you've got to keep building that sense that, yes, my commitment is growing that I cannot allow this process to take us back to the question of violence, we really want to move forward and get out of the violence. And you couch that in terms of your larger interests of the country. You don't couch it simply in your narrow party political interests. You have to keep putting before the public the need that even though they are gripped in violence, like was happening in SA, that the solution that you want must take this country out of that violence. I think that's the commitment that's needed in conflict resolution, not the commitment that I trust you, etc. I can see that you are seeing through our interaction, it is coming through that you realise going back -

POM     Maybe trust should be qualified by saying is there a necessity to believe the other person's commitment to the process?

MM     Let's take an analogy from aviation. When a plane is taking off, it builds up its speed, it takes off. There is a particular point in that take-off when the plane is airborne that is defined as a point of no return, there is some technical term in aviation, which means that if you detect a problem whatever the problem that has arisen at that point it is too late for you to come down. So that's a critical point. When the parties, the key players, are moving where you are now in that space that you cannot turn back to that runway which you have left, that's what's crucial.

POM     When did that arise in SA?

MM     I think the Record of Understanding. I think the Record of Understanding is under-estimated for its historical significance. The Record of Understanding in writing confirms, when you examine it, that the NP which was pursuing a twin track strategy of talking and undermining and hoping to come out on top have now shown in writing, whatever it may want to do subsequently, had committed itself in writing to that where it reached the point of no return. It had said a Constitutional Assembly will be created to draft the final constitution. That is the elected representatives of the people will sign that, will write that constitution. Whatever we are writing here is a temporary thing to take us to that point. We are not pretending here that we are writing that final constitution so it's not a deal making, it's a deal to take us somewhere and I think that encapsulated that point of no return and they had crossed that. There would be hiccups, there would be problems, and you would constantly be able to hold each other and you had taken what was confidential discussions and made it a public commitment.

POM     Just to go back to one of the things you said, that you would see that in any process that even when things break down that a breakdown is almost a natural part of the process but what you do in between is you never lose contact, you maintain some kind of communication, some kind of channel.

MM     And that channel must stop fighting about all the details. That channel must concentrate on why have the formal negotiations broken down. What are the issues? And in those issues everybody inside will throw all petty details, you've got to stand up about that. So the first rounds in such a channel, confidential meeting, is a round of each party throwing a number of irrelevant side issues on the table and you would be at loggerheads. But the purpose of that first round, first phase, is to put what looks like the smaller issues on one side. Let's come to an agreement what is really holding us up.

     In the SA context we could have very easily as the ANC said the crucial problem is the civilian violence going on and we say to you, the NP, you are behind it and they say no it's black versus black. We escaped that problem, we escaped that problem. We said, no, the real problem that's undermining the channel is the degree to which we are committed to a constitution that is going to be written by the elected representatives. That's the key issue. On the violence, let's not quarrel with each other, let's just have some things about the current manifestations that would allay some concerns. The hostels, it's playing a role. Can we find some mechanisms to fence the hostels, guard them, prevent people harming themselves in the hostels and getting out and prevent people from getting into the hostels to attack people in the hostels? Second question, let's agree that it is wrong for us to have a law that allows people to go to political gatherings and public gatherings armed. You've got to do something about it. The two never worked out. In the end hostel violence continued, people defied and accused De Klerk of not being whole-heartedly behind the removing of arms in public, people bearing arms in public meetings but they made that commitment. Whether it worked out or not was immaterial. It was an issue that as we now see from hindsight not a material issue, but certainly it gave a sense to the entire public that these two people have sat down and are committed to removing that violence. They cannot remove it overnight but they are prepared to take steps. So when you read the Record of Understanding, the heart of that understanding is commitment to the constitution of this country.

POM     A lot has been written in a romantic way or has made a big play of the Cyril and Roelf Show and the special relationship that developed between the two and the fish hook story and the fly fishing and all of that, has that been romanticised out of all proportion?

MM     I'm not so sure that Cyril went trout fishing more than the one time and I'm almost certain that since 1994 I don't think Cyril and Roelf have been trout fishing. There is no personal friendship that developed at that level. Sure, they found and both committed an atmosphere between each other where they could talk, oppose each other and no longer descend into mud slinging. That's all. Nothing more. You're not asking enemies of yesterday to become intimate friends of tomorrow. That's a process that will take place but what you are asking is that they have to find consciously or unconsciously a set of rules of conduct between each other that begin to reflect a respect for each other.

POM     I am always amazed at the way this fish hook story has assumed mythical proportions. All I know is that the glass of whisky gets larger every time!

MM     I think that's somewhat deciding the issue. But of course, people like romantic stories. The media like it and they will take everything small like that and put it up. Tomorrow they will take a quarrel and blow it up into a big thing. They wouldn't know it, the next day you met for breakfast and continue to talk. So that's in the nature of the game but I think that at the end of the day while the public may not be able to put their finger and define it, there has to be a sense of integrity beginning to flow out of that process which the public can be able to find.

POM     And to imbue it with that sense of integrity.

MM     Because you are not talking around the table simply on the basis that the person across the table has got no case to put. Even if you define that case as representing a narrow vested interest, because parallel with these processes what other thing is going on? The ANC engaged the Afrikaner right led by Constand Viljoen. At the channel, as we were resolving the issues of the channel and getting the multiparty talks going, we were very conscious that the NP was suddenly talking to Constand and talking privately to the IFP. We were continuing to seek ways to talk to the Afrikaner right and to the IFP too and we allowed the NP to have credit at times. I remember one meeting where we said to the NP, you are meeting Constand, why don't you call him into the room? You are meeting the IFP, we have ironed out the problems why don't you call them into the room? They said, to address what? To address the issues and their concerns. And the NP was surprised that we were allowing them to appear as the interlocuters but we knew we were quietly talking to them too and we therefore knew that we were positioning ourselves differently from the way the NP was. The NP was positioning itself with them to say, where can we agree and resurrect that commonality of position which would oppose the ANC? That's all that they were looking at. We were looking at the larger issue, where can we with these interactions that we are having find a way to encapsulate it in a broader framework such that they are still at the talks, they don't walk out of the talks. But we would regard the agreement signed with the NP as the crucial agreement around which the multiparty talks would be reconstituted. That's why the multiparty talks never got named CODESA because the IFP returned to the talks, came to Kempton Park and said, "We reject even the name CODESA." We said, "OK, it's temporary. Call it the Multiparty Negotiating Process. We will find a name." They said, "Yes you find another name."In the public mind it's CODESA again but all our documents, all our press statements said Multiparty Negotiating Process and the IFP would stand up and say, "This is not a continuation of CODESA", which is quite clear in the public view that it's the same process continuing. Then the IFP says all previous agreements are now hereby nullified. We said, "OK, OK, this is what you are saying. You want us to spend time on the same issues again? Can we break up the issues into little parts? Can we not replicate the same approach that we adopted of huge working groups?" And the IFP said, "What do you mean how it's going to be done?" So we came and said on each issue let's set up a technical team of four or five people. We were talking about technical experts, we're not taking the political decision. We will call professors, academics, anybody. If you have a chance, name a person. People do that, say, well five people, now we're going to nominate – at least one we nominate is going to be there, we're stronger now around the table. There are not 19 parties. And we said, OK, you sit on the Management Committee. They said, OK and put Ben Ngubane in the Secretariat with Fanie and Mac, he will have a say. And we would sit down, "Now Ben, this is what we are committed to, look this is a solution coming from the Technical Committee. How do we feel about it? Can we take it to our principals and take it to the Management Committee?" And gradually what was happening was that the process was moving forward and you would say this thing is resolved, put it in its box. And you would say, no, no, we have reservations. You will be able to visit your reservations later when everything else is together. We're not trying to pull a fast one over you. At the moment it appears to be agreed but you are worried about the implications. You will only look at the implications and when all the boxes are full then you can see what the implications are and you'll have a second bite. What's your problem? Instead of engaging and saying no, no, no, we want to see what the implications of this are for the next thing, we said let's just be calm, we've got a very big responsibility here. This is a temporary agreement housed here. We will see how they impact on each other and where it is coherent.

POM     I just asked Mr Maharaj the question at which we left things the last time and that is he said that if the NP had been a little better at strategising and getting their act together that they could have given the ANC a 'run for their money' in the April 1994 election.

MM     How can I illustrate my proposition because by nature I am opposed to all sorts of speculation around the ifs in history. I think that the NP, I think we must be fair that De Klerk took a bold step in February 1990 and that step historically was crucial to moving SA into a negotiated phase. However, it is clear now when we look back that he was facing problems in his constituency and in the white constituency and whether we call it a gamble or not he decided to go for a referendum. That referendum could be described as being necessitated from his side because his constituency was fracturing. We didn't like it because while he was sitting around the table he was taking it into a white only exercise. However, he won the referendum and that's where he made a crucial mistake after the referendum. I think any party in a conflict resolution situation strategically needs to be able to divide its thinking between on the one hand inspiring its followers and it can therefore exude confidence, but on the other hand in the recesses of your mind having a very clear, unexaggerated sense of your strength and weaknesses. The referendum results led to the NP beginning to behave over-confidently at the negotiating table.

POM     Why?

MM     I think they felt secure now that they have consolidated the white constituency.

POM     OK.

MM     They had not just survived, they now felt –

POM     They now had eliminated the threat from the Conservative Party.

MM     They eliminated the threat but they thought that simultaneously it now became a power play vis-à-vis the ANC, they could now behave at the negotiating table to say, "I am speaking for all the whites. I've been through a referendum. My constituency is secure." They hadn't stopped to examine that that was one part of the response and the other part was that what was happening to the white constituency. Was it really cohesive? No, it was continuing to fracture and hesitate and so De Klerk and his team over-estimated their strength as reflected in the referendum. Now that was a crucial mistake. On reflection, what did that referendum outcome deliver to De Klerk? It delivered to him an endorsement by the white community to continue the way you are, however ambiguous that statement was. But it said now I am in a position to really now move forward out of this horizon and speak for all the SA people.

POM     The white South African people.

MM     No, speak for all South Africans. The referendum says I can speak for white South Africa. What must I do now to consolidate my strength? Must I keep looking at the white South Africans and worry about the details of what I am agreeing or must I start speaking for all South Africans? Now speaking for all South Africans is beyond lip service. He's got to begin to say I am incorporating into those interests of white South Africans your interests, the black people. Now the black people would respond by saying, oh sorry, no deal, you can't speak for us, the ANC is speaking for us. So the critical element was to shift your posture, to say I see this, yes the ANC will rule, I see that it speaks for you but we are prepared to be partners because, see, we can deliver the white constituency but we will deliver it now with a full commitment towards that process of a democratic SA where your elected representatives will write the constitution. He should have taken that commitment to a Constitutional Assembly and become a champion of it, saying I'm not playing games now, I'm saying we really want a democratic system and that the final constitution will be written by who you elect. I don't want to exercise control and play games, I want to merge the interests of the people to a process and if I'm small or big the promise that I'm making is that I would work with all the elected people even if I am a minority of a minority. And if I'm a majority I will still call in those people you have confidence in, into this process. He didn't do that. He used that as a strength wholly to exploit at the negotiating table and to keep saying, "You understand, I am endorsed by my community. I now really command them so you had better be careful what you are forcing me to agree." He had to make that leap.

     Had he made that leap I think that he would have been occupying a different terrain where the mindset, the way of thinking, the answers to issues would have been in a different framework. That's because I accept that even though you represent interest groups, in the end interest groups don't dictate to you on a day to day basis what to do and there is an interaction between the leadership and the interest group. Your interest group needed to find a way to increase his stature and he could not increase that stature except by speaking to all South Africans in a language now that all South Africans would be saying, ANC, what's your problem? What's your problem? This man is saying an elected body, elected by all the parties, would be the one that will write our constitution. What's your problem? Why are you people arguing what will be the - So I think that's a bit far-fetched but I think that he didn't have that mindset. He did not have that mindset.

POM     He couldn't make crucial – this is where it comes back to the question we discussed earlier that while he was very good at tactics he had no strategy so he could never make leaps.

MM     He could not make leaps.

POM     He had no vision of what he was leaping towards.

MM     The ANC had a problem. In the Harare Declaration we had said that the scenario for change is to create the pre-conditions for negotiations, negotiate a cessation of hostilities, create a government by decree which would take the country to a democratic system. That would be the scenario. In the negotiating process at a certain stage De Klerk attacked our concept of government by decree. He said there's the proof that the ANC is not democratic. It wants a pally-pally arrangement where we will constitute a new government by agreement and to rule by decree, it will not be an elected body and it will take the country to an election. This is undemocratic. The National Executive of the ANC met and a debate took place. Of course some people said, but wait a minute chaps, our Harare Declaration says government by decree. Why bother if he is criticising us? You are being too touchy. Others said, no wait a minute chaps, let's talk here. Is it that crucial that we should have a government by decree, ruling by decree? This man is trying to rob us of our real cause which is democracy so he is trying to dub us anti-democratic. Why don't we take up the challenge? Why don't we take up the challenge and say that the interim government that would usher this country through to a final government, we are prepared to have it elected. And people said, how is it going to work? That's a detail question. We don't have answers on the detail. But let's take up this public space, it's in keeping with all our …the modalities, the technical issues. Madiba wasn't here, he was abroad. We took a resolution, we issued a statement. We support an interim government that's elected.

POM     And the interim government became the TEC?

MM     No not yet. Madiba hears this thing and he says, "Chaps, what have you done? Have you departed from policy?" He comes back and we said no, we haven't departed. He said, "I'm unhappy. How is it going to work?" Now look back at the process. What happened? If we were going to have an interim that's elected, who was going to carry out the elections? Was it going to be another government by decree? We ended up with the TEC, not as the interim government, the TEC as the watchdog over existing government to have elections. The elections to create what? A five year interim government. At the end of the five years, within that five years the elected MPs had to function as a Constituent Assembly and hammer out the final constitution. So in that sense the first five years can strictly be described as the interim government.

     So, those technical issues were resolved but the Nats were robbed of a propaganda campaign that they were leading: don't trust the ANC, it's anti-democratic. When we issued our statement they didn't know how to respond because they went into the enclave to say, my God, we said they don't stand for democracy, they said they support an interim government as democratic. How the hell are we going to control this interim government? They're going to take us over. Now that became a big fear and that had to be negotiated bilaterally because we said, OK chaps, short space, the election date is set, we're keeping to that election date. What we will do is let's have a set of instruments which will ensure that while you are government and the elections are being run you don't abuse that.

POM     That's between?

MM     Between December 1993 and April 27th 1994.

POM     The TEC would be –

MM     Yes. Set up the Independent Media Commission, we set up the TEC and there was one other, one or two others. Independent Election Commission, which was not under the TEC, the IEC. But each of them, the IEC had to conduct the elections, not the government. Who were going to staff it would employ them. The IEC would employ them. Will it be Home Affairs normally which conducts it? No. Independent Media Commission, what is its job? It is to ensure that government does not abuse its access to media and its propaganda publications and present its views. So it's a check on the SABC etc. TEC? Wide ranging interventionist capacity which was a joke. How were we going to create an institution for three months which would be tracking everything that government is doing at administration? It was said we'll strive, we'll strive as far as we can but it said in the TEC Act that the TEC can intervene with government and say don't do this because it's not levelling the playing fields, it's tilting the playing field in favour of you who controls government. And the period was very short but I was now on the elected body that emerges in April which will not only govern the country and constitute the government but will also function as a Constitutional Assembly which will produce the final constitution.

POM     Regarding the role of the TEC, I want to take that back to Bophuthatswana and the fall of Mangope. Three questions really. One, Constand Viljoen maintains that he had a sufficient corps of former commandos in place, disciplined, well-trained, who were prepared to seize a piece of the land or take military action but that he had made it clear he wanted no involvement of the AWB and that when the AWB went into Bophuthatswana he said, "This is it, I'm out, I'm out of here, I will not deal with these people, simply will not deal with them." In that sense, just to put it not argumentatively but as a way – should one thank Eugene, the AWB for being such messy, horrible group of undisciplined thugs that they made Viljoen's side to have nothing to do with them and to pull out of Bophuthatswana where he had some of his commandos ready to go to the aid of Mangope, and say I'm going home? Two, do you think that had Viljoen decided to press ahead with whatever armed forced he had at his disposal that it would have proved a problem? Three, I understand that you had a role to play, that you accompanied General Meiring to the TEC who made the decision for the SADF to go into Bop, restore order and effectively tell him, on the instructions of the government or the TEC or whomever, that his days were up, that he should start packing his bags?

MM     I do not want to rob General Constand Viljoen of an important role that he has played in this transition but I think the statement that he is making is too narrow to be confined to a militaristic standpoint. There was evidence long before that that a whole set of forces in the white right were gathering together with a view to blocking any change to democracy and that Constand Viljoen had emerged as a critical element in that equation because of his access to the defence force and particularly the commandos. And it is clear they were organised but there were all the signs for a political person to see that those forces that he was gathering together and who had put him in the lead were doing it with different agendas behind their own positions, including Eugene Terre'Blanche.

     As part of this, one of the critical persons was General Viljoen's right hand man, very pale face he was, he was head of Military Intelligence, he was in parliament for the first round – the name is escaping me, very soft spoken voice, great man, used to head Military Intelligence when Viljoen was head of the SADF. He was the conduit for the training wing in various parts of the country, not just of the white right. They were training IFP members at Mhlaba Camp, they were training people in Northern Natal, they were training people in Northern Transvaal, they were training people in North West and they were linking themselves with anybody amongst the black puppets to get access to training capacity and get into a relationship which would give them a military strategic advantage. All this was going on before the Bop incident.

POM     Were the government sharing this with you, the TEC?

MM     The government was denying it. The government was saying nothing like it, you guys are exaggerating, don't worry it's under control.

POM     So this was coming through your own intelligence sources?

MM     Our own intelligence, but it was common knowledge that this was going on. Since then the fallout inside the IFP, Walter Felgate, has confirmed that payments were made by the IFP for Constand's group and the white right to train the IFP people. … sought for by the Namibians, was training people in Northern Natal, Ladysmith and Newcastle. But this particular General was the lynchpin of those arrangements and he was second to Constand. So there was a real threat but I am saying politically the forces that were being hammered together as an expression of that threat and giving the umbrella under which that threat would manifest itself was COSAG which was Viljoen and company, Mangope, Oupa Gqozo and the IFP was caught where to sit in this COSAG alignment because the IFP was now smarting that it had been ditched by the NP and they were following a twin track, stay in the talks and block it and create the space for the paramilitary force they were racing to build up.

     So it's not just the Bophuthatswana raid. Gqozo collapsed and the TEC raided the Mhlaba Camp where 5000 trainees were being trained by Powell and they had to flee. So it disrupted that and of those 5000 trained in Mhlaba Camp in KZN they spread out and became election agents and manning the polling booths in the rural areas of KZN and they were supposed to be incorporated ascover in the KwaZulu Police. So this was all happening and we were struggling how to get on top of this by the TEC and we were struggling from the ANC side how to engage these forces in political discussions to neutralise them. So we were talking to Mangope's government, we were talking to Constand, we were seeking to talk to Buthelezi and we were seeking to engage even Oupa Gqozo.

     I say Constand's version is a pure military one that says had he taken over, which is the real word, Bophuthatswana he would have had a base, air strip, a territory and a clear position from which to consolidate his power and launch it. That's how he saw it in military terms and he saw that accompanied by similar possibilities in KZN, in the Ciskei, in the north and that it would then become a formidable military opposition. COSAG as a political force was not seen as crucial to that opposition but it saw that as an umbrella that would tie the people. His own forces were divided. They were running a radio station inviting people to join.

POM     That's his own forces?

MM     The white right. The rest, what really happened was a major question of politics because politics is not just a science. A huge component of politics is an art and part of that art is to be able to seize a moment. Others may call it opportunism. I think on that basis you will call Lenin the biggest opportunist of the 20th century. What really happened was that they gathered forces to move into Bophuthatswana on the grounds that the Mangope government was threatened by a spontaneous uprising in Bophuthatswana at Mafikeng. So they saw this militarily and politically as an opportunity to move in, bolster Mangope and consolidate that stance of Mangope against the negotiated process.

     What did we see? Personally I saw a great threat to the transition in military terms, but I said how do we checkmate this? Two strengths. The population of Bophuthatswana has spontaneously risen in revolt, the white right has moved in there and embedded in that white right is racist conduct. Viljoen could not argue with me that the commandos that he is commanding were now stripped of racism. No way. That would be closing his eyes to the politics of the problem. Each of them thought we are now going to rule this country, we're going to stop the democratic process, we're going to overthrow De Klerk and we're going to rule.

POM     That's the AWB?

MM     AWB and the white right, even the commandos because look at the commando leaders. The difference is we will do it with a different face. When this revolt took place and the AWB moved in a sense developed amongst those of us at Kempton Park in the ANC that this was an opportunity that would either be a setback or you had to exploit it fully. The Management Committee of the TEC agreed to allow Fanie van der Merwe and I, because they were now dithering what to do, put a proposal to Cyril and I was frantic and sometimes I may have spoken out of turn but I said to Cyril, "Cyril, you had better move the TEC to Bophuthatswana." He said, "It's not working out." I said, "Well then send Fanie and me on an urgent mission to go and bring a report on the ground of what is the reality there." The TEC agreed, the Management Committee agreed – not the TEC, the Management Committee of the TEC supported that.

     Fanie and I prepared to go over. Fanie had to do the logistics. I think Roelf and them were pretty confident that they were in charge. They said that a helicopter - Fanie comes and says a helicopter will take the two of us to Mafikeng. When I got to the air strip it was a military helicopter. Not a problem. But when I got into the helicopter who was sitting there? General Meiring and General van der Merwe of the police. Clearly they were not part of our mission and I wondered what was happening. We get to Bophuthatswana and we listen to the reports. General Meiring calls a meeting and then he has the General in charge of the Bophuthatswana forces, I forget his name, I think his name was Tredoux or something, to give a report. So we are sitting in this meeting, the SA High Commissioner is there, a whole set of military and police brass are sitting there, the Commander of the Bophuthatswana army is sitting there and he gives a report and his report essentially says – our forces have lost control, the Bophuthatswanan army has lost control, the police force has collapsed. And General Meiring behaves like he's chairing this meeting and he says, "Right, number one, the SA Defence Force now goes out to stabilise. Two, to bring law and order. Three, reinstate Mangope and … the defence force of Bophuthatswana." And he reads forwardsand I said, "No, you can't do that. I said we have just had a report that the administration has collapsed, that the police force has collapsed, the defence force of Bophuthatswana is not in control, the civil service has collapsed, Mangope is hiding out. We have not come here to reinstate Mangope. We have come here, Fanie and I, to get a reading of the situation and give a report to FW and Madiba meeting in the Union Buildings. They are meeting there right now and it's our job to give a report."

     I see at the SA High Commissioner's property, tanks under the trees, defence force. So they have moved in the tanks also to support stabilisation. To me that's reinstating Mangope. So we have a stand off. It's the same day, the first thing that happened was that when I got out I went to the phone with Fanie. I said, "Let's rush to the phone to give a report to Union Buildings", merrily saying I can't give him orders. He only takes orders from FW de Klerk and his orders are clear. He has the power to stabilise and reinstate. And we go to the High Commissioner's offices in the same yard - in there Fanie talks to Roelf at Union Buildings. Now I get through, we phone and we call for Cyril and I give a report to Cyril in Fanie's presence. I give him my reading and I say, "General Meiring wants to go out to this, you will have to get a countermand from Madiba and FW      to stop him." Then I hand the phone to Fanie, call for Roelf and I decide to leave the office. I gave my report in the presence of Fanie but I decided he's got to report to Roelf and I must leave and Fanie says, "No, Mac, don't leave the room. I have heard the report you've presented and I want you to hear my report." Foreign Affairs was present in the form of Rusty Evans and Rusty can see that there's a huge tussle going on here between the army, Meiring, and myself. Fanie gives a report which is in his own words but it is fundamentally in alignment with my assessment. Rusty Evans disappears.

POM     Was he in the room while both of you were giving your reports?

MM     Yes.

POM     So it was the three of you?

MM     He disappears. Fanie and I get out going back to the High Commissioner's house and we see a helicopter. What's that? It's got no markings, it's not military but it's flying over the SA High Commission office. Then from the sound of it it lands somewhere nearby. So I said, "What helicopter is this? No markings." Fanie says, "I don't know." We go into the High Commissioner's residence, there's no Meiring. If I remember correctly Fanie disappears and later Fanie comes back. He says, "Mac, now I had to meet Rusty Evans, he's got something to say." So Rusty met him and Rusty meets the two of us. He says, "Gentlemen, I don't know what is happening but I feel I'm obliged to tell you people, the two of you, you're from the TEC, that helicopter has just brought Constand Viljoen."

POM     Has just brought in Constand Viljoen?

MM     Yes. And Constand Viljoen and General Meiring are having a meeting on the premises of the High Commission. It has landed in the High Commission territory and in another cottage the two of them are meeting. And he says, "I've been there sitting in the meeting. They are planning together to fly to Motsuene, the palace of Mangope, to engage in discussions with Mangope." I said, "Thank you very much", and I said to Rusty, "Who else is there with Constand?" He said, "Colonel Jan Breytenbach, he's of the recce units and he's aligned to Constand." So I said, "Has he been here?" He said, "Yes he's here, he's on the ground." This is right in Mmabatho, Jan Breytenbach is there. He hasn't come in the helicopter, he's on the territory on the ground like a Field Commando. I said "OK. I want to see General Meiring." This is about five or six in the afternoon just before it starts getting dark and I ask for Meiring, told Rusty, told Fanie, "I've got to see Meiring, don't tell him why." At about six, half past six, Meiring walks into the lounge and he simply says, "We've got to leave now, it's getting dark, the helicopter is not equipped to take off in darkness so we've got to leave now." I said, "No. Sit. Sit, we need a meeting." He reluctantly sits and I said to him, "You have been doing things behind our back. We have phoned Union Buildings for instructions from FW and Mandela and the steps that you are taking are impermissible. I am not prepared to fly back. I am going to sit here on the ground reporting to Union Buildings and right now I am saying if that helicopter is to take off it must wait until I go and make a call to Union Buildings." Meiring is taken aback but Fanie is quietly supporting me. I go to the foyer in the High Commissioner's house and phone Union Buildings and I get Cyril on the line and I say, "Cyril, this is what's happening. Unless you can get FW and Madiba to countermand I am sitting here, I'm not moving." Cyril comes back, Roelf on the phone and then Roelf asks for Meiring. Meiring goes to the phone in the foyer, makes sure I won't hear what he's talking about, comes back furious and he says, "Well, let's fly back." I say, "Have you got your instructions?" He says to me that's his business. I said, "No." Then I say I'm going back to the room and I want to hear what instructions have been given to him. He says, "I don't have to obey you." I said, "No, the instructions that you are receiving from FW can only be your instructions, from my point of view, of the TEC if they are instructions that are also agreed to by Mandela sitting with FW at Union Buildings." Fanie pulls him out to one side, comes back to me and he says, "Mac, please cool it. Their instructions have been given." I say, "Are the SADF prohibited from going out of this compound with their tanks to reinstate Mangope?" He says, "Yes, they can't.""Good", I say, "We'll try that."

     That was the Friday I think, or Thursday. Got back that night, Cyril and Madiba were not at Union Buildings. They had left late at night. We got back quite late. Contacted Cyril on the phone and he said the TEC Management Committee is meeting tomorrow. Yes, it was a Friday night, Saturday morning TEC from Pretoria to be held today in the High Commissioner's premises.So we go to the TEC offices and I tell Cyril and I tell Joe Slovo, I say, "Chaps, it's a touch and go job." Joe Slovo said, "What do you want?" I said, "Adjourn the meeting of the TEC from Pretoria to be held tomorrow at the High Commissioner's premises. Move it there." "What's your aim?"I said, "Chaps, we haven't got the military power but if we are on the ground, all of the Management Committee including Colin Eglin and Roelf, we will be able to countermand actions. It's in our power to do that."[He will never exercise that.] I say, it's there, we can do it.

     Cyril at the meeting, walks out of the meeting, Pravin Gordhan is chairing, goes and has one-to-one with Roelf and this thing is happening all the time and every now and then I'm being called out, Joe Slovo is being called out by Cyril. I said, "What are you doing Cyril?" He says, "I am sitting on Roelf, I am sitting hard on him and I am saying we overthrow Mangope." Roelf comes back and he says to Cyril, "No, it's agreed, we remove Mangope." He says, "How? How?" Like you're saying adjourn the Management Committee to meet now and we will fly by helicopter immediately to Mmabatho. Roelf says, "What will happen with Colin Eglin and the others? They don't know what's happening." So Roelf comes back and he says, "FW is saying that if Mangope is out it is the job of Pik Botha to handle and they say Pik is on his way. They called him wherever he is in the country, so Pik is flying to Pretoria." I say, "Roelf, is it a deal now that we are going in there, you are going in there to overthrow Mangope, to depose him." He says, "Yes, it's a deal." This is between two and three in the afternoon. How are we going to do it? This is happening outside the TEC Management room. I say, "Send Fanie and me with Pik Botha and with General Meiring to unseat Mangope. In the meantime let's take a resolution at the TEC Management Committee that the Management Committee will adjourn to Mmabatho." Why? To go and be on the spot. Then the question arises what happens to Mac and Fanie. We say no, describe to the Management Committee that Mac and Fanie are being sent in advance on an earlier flight to create the facilities for the TEC to meet. "Don't tell them", Roelf said, "Don't tell them you're going to overthrow Mangope." I say, "OK, deal." Then I say, "Are you giving that instruction also to General Meiring?" He says, "Yes."

     So, Pik Botha arrived at Wonderboom in his plane. Meiring, Fanie and I boarded his plane and we flew off to Mmabatho and I can see Meiring is uncomfortable. We get to Mafikeng Airport and we go into the VIP and I look at the airport, the right wing are already controlling part of the air strip.

POM     It would be the right wing in terms of - ?

MM     Constand's right wing. Meiring, "General Meiring, what's the strength of Mangope's forces guarding Constand's right wing who are controlling the air strip?"I sat in the VIP room and Meiring is running around. I say to Pik and Fanie, "What's happening?" Meiring is arranging for us to go to Mangope's royal palace. So we do that and suddenly I realise, hey wait a minute, is Meiring playing some trick here? It's getting night. So I say to Pik Botha, "Pik I haven't had a report. You're in charge here but I haven't heard a report from Meiring to say how heavily armed are Mangope's guards. How many guards has he got at the palace?" And Pik says, "What do you mean?" I say, "Look, we're planning to fly in there, what happens when we land there and Mangope's elite guard, which in my estimate are 120 strong and they are fully armed and are camped on his site, what happens if they take us hostage?" And Pik of course screamed, he says, "You mean to say we can die?" I said, "Why not? How are we planning to go there? I don't hear any of the logistics." Pik calls Meiring and Meiring says, "I'll go and check".I said, "Go and check! You as the military head by now should know that." Anyway Meiring goes away, comes back and he says there are at least sixty. Pik says, "How heavily are they armed?" He says, "They are fully armed." "Who are they?" "They are the elite forces trained by the SADF." It's now dark. Pik says, "What are you doing General Meiring? What are you doing? Are we going to die?" And Meiring says, "No, I'm trying to get ground forces from the SADF but they've got a long distance to travel. They're only coming at two or three in the morning." So he says, "When do we fly?" He says, "Until I've got my forces' position." "No, that's not good enough, we've been sitting here for two, three hours already. By now you could have got three or four helicopters fully loaded with soldiers ready to go fly in in advance of us, landing before us, securing the ground and ensuring our helicopter to land."

     So we did that. We flew into Mmabatho at about ten at night. Mangope was asleep, he was in his pyjamas. First another helicopter had to land with soldiers fully armed who took positions in Mangope's yard around our helicopter. We then landed and they escorted us to the door of the palace. We got into this meeting, there was Mangope, his son the Colonel, his daughter-in-law and the other son and there was Pik, Meiring, Fanie and me. And Mangope tried to buy time. He said, "Look, I need time, I'm prepared to change my views about the elections but I need to discuss it with the IEC." And Pik was virtually agreeing when I intervened and I said no. Mangope had planned a Legislative Assembly meeting to take place two or three days later on, I think on the Tuesday, and he was planning to do a radio broadcast and he says, "I want help to do that", and Pik was agreeing, but I intervened, I said, "No ways, sorry. You're not getting the message Mr Mangope. The message is you are now out of power."

     So I said, "You're out, no more talks, no meeting of the Legislative Assembly, no address on the radio." And Mangope turned bitterly to Pik Botha and attacks him, he said, "I've been your friend all these years, I never knew you would be coming here with this message." We said, "You're out." We told him we're leaving forces here to secure his safety, which was a way of saying you're now under house arrest and we said to General Meiring, out of the hearing of Pik Botha, "General Meiring, this man is not to leave here. You've got to guard him day and night and you've got to get your forces and you've got to disarm his guard."

     We now fly off to the High Commissioner's place leaving Meiring behind. When we get in there the TEC Management Committee has been sitting for hours waiting for us. We get in there, the TEC meeting starts and we report that we came in advance, we found a situation, we had to take action immediately and that is what has delayed Fanie and me and we have just come back from the palace of Mangope having removed him formally from power with Pik Botha and having placed him under effective house arrest.

POM     So it is your belief that Meiring at that point was playing a double game?

MM     Oh yes. Meiring was ready to put the SADF into deployment to reinstate Mangope to power.

POM     And was he working with Viljoen?

MM     He was in very close contact with Jan Breytenbach and Constand Viljoen.

POM     Breytenbach at that point would have been retired, right?

MM     Breytenbach was part of the SADF commandos and he was with the rank of Colonel, he came from the Namibian bush war and he was, in my view, the Operational Commander of Constand's forces.

POM     In your own perspective what you had here was almost an act of treason by General Meiring insofar as he was prepared to act counter to –

MM     He would explain his position as an all-way mandate, as the general mandate of the South African Defence Force to keep the integrity of the territory of Bophuthatswana safe. Previously Mangope had been overthrown, the SADF has flown him to the stadium, rescued Mangope in his pyjamas and reinstalled him. This had happened before so he would say that was his mandate, "I saw law and order collapse and I saw my mandate as restoring law and order. The lawful government in my view was Mangope, and I therefore saw my mandate as restoring Mangope." He would say that was not treason, he was operating in the old paradigm of South Africa and he would then argue that he neutralised the white right by working together with them.

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.