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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
24 Aug 2000: Wagener, Jan
POM Maybe, as you said, I should start at the beginning. That is, tell me about your own background, where you grew up, what your parents did, where you went to school, the kind of formative events in your life that shaped you as a person.
JW I would say I grew up in a very typical Afrikaans, white Afrikaans speaking house in South Africa, rather conservative, quite religious, my father being a career civil servant having worked only for the civil service and no-one else; in a house where at the time the Nationalist Party was governing our country. I was born in 1953, that's already after the NP became the government.
POM Were you born in Pretoria?
JW I was born in the Eastern Transvaal, now called Mpumalanga, but I grew up in the Cape. I grew up in the Cape, I went to school there, later I went to university there. I would also say the traditional we stuck to the Afrikaner history I would say in our house. My father, he brought us up that way, the traditional Afrikaner important days, we used to do things like that. So after school I had to do a year compulsory military training at the time.
POM Was that before you went to university?
JW Yes, immediately after school. In my time we had to go there immediately after school. I actually looked forward to it. I thought it would be an adventure. I went to the defence force, I was drafted into an ordinary infantry unit but within a week I actually volunteered for one of the more specialised units called One Parachute Battalion. That meant that at the tender age of 17 I became a qualified paratrooper. As I sit here, 29 years later, I must realise that that would have played a role in my future because I can tell you now my instructors were people like Joe Verster, who you must have heard of by now, people who later went from One Parachute Battalion and even later into the CCB. I was as a youngster in a unit with people like that. After that year I went to university. Needless to say with state bursaries, because I was the youngest child of a civil servant, three children simultaneously at university so I applied for assistance. I was the youngest of three, but all three of us simultaneously at university so I applied for state bursaries which were granted to me. I went to University of Stellenbosch, did first B.Com and then my LLB and thereafter I had to work for the state in order to honour my obligations in terms of the bursary contracts. I had to work for the state for five years in the Department of Justice.
POM That was under Kruger, Coetsee?
JW Kobie Coetsee, I think he had just that was in 1977, I think it was just before Kobie Coetsee. Yes, for the largest part of my stay in the department he was the minister.
POM He's one of the people who I've been interviewing for years. He died and I went to Bloemfontein for his funeral. The only person I knew who was there was President de Klerk, there wasn't another cabinet minister. When you're dead -
JW Ja, I will try and explain something on that. So I joined the office of the State Attorney in Pretoria. I think you have an office called the State Attorney in America but it means slightly different, I think there the State Attorney is the prosecutor isn't he?
POM That's right, yes.
JW In our country it's slightly different. We have the Attorney General who used to be the prosecutor, it's now called the Director for Public Prosecutions. In those years it was called the Attorney General. The State Attorney simply meant, it's like an ordinary Attorney's practice but with the state as their client. I joined this office, I did my articles we had to do two years articles in my country after your law studies before you can be admitted as an attorney. I did that in the office of the State Attorney, passed the examinations and was admitted as an attorney. You won't believe it, three days ago that was 21 years ago, 21st August 1979. I was admitted as an Attorney in the Office of the State Attorney in Pretoria. Things went slightly different than what I had planned when I was a student. I had planned that I would work for the state for five years, meeting my obligations, and then go into private practice. In the end I remained on in the Office of the State Attorney for nearly 20 years, 19 years to be exact.
Now from an early stage I was entrusted with rather sensitive matters in the Office of the State Attorney, specifically regarding the security forces, the police, the defence force, also National Intelligence. I was entrusted with matters of significant political sensitivity. I have often wondered why, why would that be, because it was a big office, there were a lot of attorneys there but it came to me. That's why I say I think the fact that I was in a fighting unit like One Parachute Battalion, later 44 Parachute Brigade, I think that must have made a difference because I was accepted by these people, I was accepted as someone to be trusted. I think so, I don't know but I think so. I was regarded as one of them.
So, yes, I remained in that office, I reached quite a senior position. I held the rank of what we call Deputy State Attorney which is quite a senior position at a young age dealing with huge matters of political impact and also as I say for the security forces, also with - we can discuss that at length. I found myself to be trusted, to be accepted, and also by the politicians of the time, specifically the minister dealing with the relevant state departments, State Presidents, Mr Botha later Mr de Klerk, even on a very personal basis I was accepted by them and a number of cabinet ministers. Although I always saw myself not as the attorney for the NP, and that I want to stress. In fact I was never even a member of the NP, I was never a member of any party. That's the way I saw my job, that one should not be tied down by anything like that, definitely party political party ties of any sort. You must have read in our country we had this so-called sinister organisation called the Afrikaner Broederbond, you must have heard of them. I was never a member of anything like that. I've always said I'm on my own, I'm a member of my church and I'm a member of the Law Society which I'm compelled to do and nothing else. That's the way I can fearlessly do my job and explain my opinions without any other influences that can interfere.
So that was the way things went. I was the attorney in a number of very sensitive matters. I had frequent contact with a number of ministers, Kobie Coetsee yes, over many years. I can tell you now I had huge clashes with him because he at times would say to me as my minister he wanted to know what I'm busy with in certain very sensitive matters that I was in the process of doing for the police or the defence force at the time and I always refused. I said this is privileged, you're my minister in an administrative way but you're not my client in this matter. So you understand, things like that. It was the same for other ministers as well. Yes I had frequent contacts with a number of ministers over those years.
POM Would that include Magnus Malan and Adriaan Vlok?
JW Yes, yes, very much so. Adriaan Vlok is still my client today.
POM I'll be seeing him next week.
JW He's still my client. In the run-up to the 1994 elections everyone realised that there would be huge changes and there were a number of questions, uncertainties, fears arising within the security forces. You can imagine that, for obvious reasons. The way I see it is the military in our country have never lost a war on a military basis but on the political basis they knew that the dimensions were negotiated and they were to dawn on our country certainly. That put me in a very difficult situation because in terms of the State Attorney's Acts I was the State Attorney for the government of the day, whoever, whatever political party may be the majority party. This in fact happened that after the elections the ANC came into power but in terms of the Act they had to come to me as their attorney which caused many problems because, for obvious reasons, they didn't trust me because in the most sensitive political matters I often was the attorney on the other side. In other words I was part of the enemy, to put it simply. They regarded me as part of the enemy and although I tried to explain that I was doing my job in what I saw as an objective, professional way and I'm not influenced by whatever political party sits in parliament, you can understand that caused many problems to me. I was personally involved in a number of court cases against people who were now all of a sudden ministers in the cabinet. My own new minister, Dullah Omar, he was detained under our emergency regulations in the eighties, he brought court action right up to the Appellate Division of our Supreme Court, unsuccessfully so, and I as a lawyer was involved in the matter against him and a number of others. So you can understand it was a very awkward situation. It was difficult for me but I must understand that they were questioning my objectivity, they were sceptical about my objectivity and they started questioning my motives even when I had to advise them on sensitive matters. Once again I can understand that.
But anyway in the meantime the TRC process was looming, big questions arose as to how the old security forces would deal with this. It became clear that the State Attorney won't be able to represent the previous security forces because the State Attorney is the attorney for the government of the day, of now, and there were all sorts of conflict of interest should the State Attorney's office give legal assistance of any sort to the previous dispensation. It was in this time that I realised that my future is not very bright in the service of the state because of the baggage that I was carrying, because I was involved for over 20 years in all these matters. I was actually told that 'you will never be promoted again'. We needn't go into that.
Then I had discussions with F W de Klerk and Johan van der Merwe and I said to them, well I'm considering resigning.
POM This was while he was still President?
JW No, at that stage he was Deputy President because Mandela was already President. This was after the 1994 elections.
POM But Johan van der Merwe was still Police Commissioner?
JW I think he had just left at that stage because I'm now speaking of 1995. I think he retired at the beginning of 1995 and I'm now about six months later. I told the two of them that I'm considering leaving because I can't see any future there whether right or wrong but because of prejudice and I said to them I'm considering resigning and to start my own practice. I saw that the looming TRC process was something that I could use as a cornerstone for building a new practice from and Johan van der Merwe said of course he would support me because I used to be his attorney in many, many matters over many years. Mr de Klerk also said, yes he and his politicians would support me. So I resigned at the end of 1995 and I took with me my own secretary and my own 2IC and we started our practice.
POM Your own?
JW My second, my right hand man, Kobus Muller, that's why my practice is called Wagener Muller. I took people from my own environment with me and I started a new practice. It was interesting, I needed two or three months to get the infrastructure in place and De Klerk said I can come to his office as a personal advisor if I did. So there was a short interim period of three months where I was acting as a personal legal advisor in the Office of the Deputy President before I formally started my own practice in February 1996. After that I was involved in advising specifically Mr de Klerk how to approach the TRC. Myself and Johan van der Merwe, he must have told you about this, the two of us we were I think instrumental in trying to bring certain concepts home to him because you must remember that he was always outside the security community. In his previous years as a minister he was never part of the security community. In army jargon you get the falcons and the doves, he would be regarded as a dove, so he was kind of an outsider.
POM But he did sit in on the Security Council?
JW He sat in on occasions but in terms of the inner circles of the security establishment he was never part of that. I think a lot of things came to him as a surprise. Van der Merwe and myself specifically we sat here for many hours. I tried to advise him how he should take him and I begged him to take Mr P W Botha with him, how to take him through the TRC process. It's a long story but in the end I did not succeed because a number of his previous cabinet members, including, unfortunately I have to say it, Mr Kobie Coetsee who died recently, they were not prepared to go for that.
POM They weren't prepared to go for?
JW I think the position was this, as a State Attorney I was one of the few people who dealt with the whole range from the foot soldier right through the Generals, right through the politicians to the State President and I thought I was in a very privileged position because of that to try and draw the line right through. But in the end the previous politicians would not accept my proposals.
POM The connection that the foot soldiers on the ground were in effect executing orders?
JW Well that it was wrong. I mean like the ANC has done. Their political leaders and their military leaders were largely the same people and a guy like Mr Mandela should come forward and say, yes, we the ANC, we were involved in the armed struggle, we sent out our cadres to kill people, to plant bombs and kill people and wherever they hit innocent people we apologise for that but it was still within the framework of our general policy. That made things very easy for them, we called them terrorists, let's call them freedom fighters or cadres, that made things very easy for them because they had their leaders opening the way for them right to the top. And on the side of the security forces that was what I was trying to do and I did not succeed and I would wish not to go into that in too much detail because I think it can be seen as privileged what happened there, the very intimate details.
POM Could you give - ?
JW Well the politicians backed out, well some of the politicians backed out and said that I was to get rid of them to a Nuremberg trial situation and they would spend their life in prison if they accept what I am saying. So when Mr de Klerk decided not to follow my line of argument and he actually broke ties with me and he got another lawyer who advised him on a very one-to-one basis to protect his interests and that led to the presentations of the old NP to the TRC. You know the rest of that story. So then I had no option but I was stuck with the security forces. The gap between the servants and the politicians which I had tried to close, I was not succeeding.
POM Were the politicians saying at that point, everyone one talks to, let me go back to Leon Wessels phrase which set the standard, that if you didn't know what was going on - there was enough going on to know what was going on but we never asked. He was on the outer ring.
JW What I can tell you is amongst all the old politicians who had to decide on my input one guy said Jan Wagener instructed me and that's Adriaan Vlok and he's still my client today and two of the younger guys and they're friends of mine, Leon Wessels and Roelf Meyer. They also supported me and said we think he's right but they were vast minorities so nothing came of that. Our politicians were scared I think that they would end up in a Nuremberg situation so I ended up failing in my real objectives there, namely to bridge the gap which I know was there because I was one of the people right there. I was there with the civil servants, the soldiers and the politicians and I was known to all of them but I failed in that. I must admit that. So the politicians - the only one who came with me was Adriaan Vlok. He's the only politician.
POM The senior soldiers were saying to the politicians, anything we did we did it on your instructions, on your behalf. There was an implicit understanding.
JW Of course.
POM Don't come and tell me you didn't know.
JW Where did the war in our country come from? It was not as if someone on a good day woke up and said this is a fine day to send our terrorists into the country. It came from somewhere and that somewhere is a political dispensation. Everyone has to accept that in my mind. It was a political struggle because of a political dispensation and a political dispensation comes from the politicians who make the laws of the country in parliament. That's the way I see it.
POM Do you, again I'm want to get the framework, would you find a government minister who let's say within the space of six or seven months had read reports in the news of detainees slipping on a bar of soap and falling out of the eleventh floor of John Vorster Square. If you were a minister or a politician would you now say, that's a bit strange?
JW Well the examples were given recently. We always had a very, very excellent intelligence capacity in our country. Yes, I would stand by that. Intelligence has always been excellent. Our intelligence gathering structures were right on top of what's been happening specifically in the sub-continent of Africa. Now over the years we all knew that we were in a political struggle, the security forces with the liberation movements, primarily the ANC. Now all of a sudden the top ANC men would be killed in a neighbouring country at night by unknown people. If I was a minister, really, who could have done this? Who would have done this? It can only be our security forces or some unknown ally and when I would ask my intelligence gathering people, "Please tell me, do we have a secret ally somewhere?" George Bizos, maybe you've spoken to him, he said it could not have been the fairies who kept on killing the top ANC people in the neighbouring countries. Of course not. I think one would be terribly, terribly naïve to
POM You've just reminded me of something. You can see I'm one person who has read De Klerk's autobiography. He tells a story here, it relates to Magnus Malan, Magnus Malan going to him, ringing him when he was on vacation, when De Klerk was on vacation -
JW That's a small place, a town called Hermanus. We also had a place there, I've often seen him there in those circumstances. Magnus Malan has also got a place there. I know them well.
POM I'm just throwing this in. De Klerk says:-
"At the beginning of 1990 after I became President I learned that in the mid-eighties an elaborate front organisation, the Civil Co-operation Bureau, was established outside the normal framework of the SADF which was given responsibility and the means for the prosecution of a secret war against the ANC and its allies. A secret, clandestine unit based outside Pretoria was established within the SA Police."
Now, he says that Magnus Malan rang him up while he was on vacation and said he had just discovered something called the Civil Co-operation Bureau. He said, "I got a fright. I must see you right away." De Klerk said, "I'm on holiday, it will have to wait." "No, I've got to see you right away." So he flew down and confronted him with, "Gee, I have just discovered that something called the Civil Co-operation Bureau hasn't exactly been acting within the bounds of what might be called legal parameters." De Klerk was taken aback and insisted it be disbanded. My question would be, if I was State President I would say: you're the Minister for Defence, you've been Minister for Defence for ten years and you're telling me that there's some secret agency that exists within your department and you're only getting knowledge of it now?
JW Yes what I can say is one must always remember also that at the time a department like the defence force they were running scores of covert front organisations. The same with the police.
POM Who knew about them?
JW The departments themselves. What I'm saying is that technically I assume it's possible that the minister could come and say I've only now become aware of a covert structure within my own department, meaning exactly what they were doing. I assume that's possible. I assume it could be possible if you had a civilian politician as your minister. General Malan he was the Chief of the Army, he was the Chief of the Defence Force before he became minister. I don't know how that's to say I would find it strange. I can understand that the State President was not aware.
POM Would a minister in your dealings with the SAP and the SADF could one assume that a minister would know that both the armed forces and the police were operating numerous covert activities but he never found out? Would he say, I want you to give me a list of all the covert activities that we're engaged in and what we're doing, or that he would simply let them just continue?
JW I would try and answer your question in this way. Take Vlakplaas for an example. Vlakplaas was initially set up round about 1980 as a unit specialising in search and find terrorists within our country. That was the initial purpose.
POM It was set up by?
JW By the police. But over the years there was a slow change in the inner ranks of how they conducted their business and in certain instances they were starting to act unlawfully. General Johan van der Merwe must have explained this concept to you.
POM No he didn't.
JW Because they were engaged in an unconventional, undeclared war with an opponent who was not bound by any rules, whereas you are bound by numerous rules as a police force in terms of your statutes and whatever, they started to realise that in many instances they can't win this war by keeping within the parameters of the law and the opponent is totally disregarding the law. So in more and more individual incidents they started acting outside the law, they started acting unlawfully. That caused a problem to them because they can't report it that way up through their channels because what they did amounted to crimes. To give an example, they would know certain (you don't mind me referring to them as terrorists because I think that is the language of the police at the time I know these days it's not the correct word) they would know certain terrorists would enter the country and they would ambush them and murder them. Now they couldn't give the real facts out to their head office because they may end up facing murder charges. Somewhere along the line the facts are slightly changed and now it becomes there was an armed skirmish with terrorists and in the process our people fought gallantly and they succeeded in eliminating the terrorists. Now that is how the facts came to the upper echelons of the department and even up there one General would even say, "Well let's recommend these people for medals", and it would end up on the table of the minister, Adriaan Vlok and he would say, "Yes, we must be proud of our people, look how they fought gallantly against the enemy. Let's give them medals." And there would be a big medal parade and the minister would be there himself with the Commissioner of Police and it's a big thing and medals for bravery are given to these operatives. In the meantime as the guy receives his medal he knows in his heart that what he did was a crime, it was a murder, nothing else. So now you can realise the problems arising from this because in a certain sense the operative experiences this as being condonation for what he did but on the other hand the minister, the General giving the medal, he's not fully informed of the true facts. You see somewhere along the line the facts are slightly changed.
Now I'm trying to answer your question about the minister, whether he knew or did not know what has been happening in his own department. Many of these structures were set up with a lawful purpose. You know in all covert structures, it works this way, that your rules and your control is obviously much more vague and is much more difficult so the moment you conduct a war along those lines you would say to a guy called Joe Verster, you're now the Chief of the CCB. Your tasks are to disrupt the enemy. Now he's a soldier, that would mean in terms of the international military law, but along the lines there's no real control, there's no real hard, army, military discipline so things can get sour, at operative level certain acts are committed which objectively amount to crimes. Now these people won't report it up the structures in exactly that way because they may be faced with criminal charges against themselves so the facts are slightly adjusted so that when it reaches the minister or even the head of the department, it may well be that the way he sees it is that and Adriaan Vlok will tell you that next week when you speak to him. He was exactly in that situation. He awarded medals to people for murder, what we now know was murder, was a criminal offence, but the way it was presented just by slightly, slightly changing the angle.
POM Every times it moves up a level it just gets -
JW As it moves up, somewhere along the line, because right at the bottom the people knew it was a crime, right at the top it is projected as a brave act in a war but totally lawful.
POM Would there be, just using Vlakplaas as an example, would there be a paper trail? Say Eugene de Kock and some of his men, say, ambushed people they suspected, ANC members and they shoot them in cold blood and then they write a report and they say we were ambushed by people from the ANC and would he submit that to the headquarters and that would go up the line so there was a paper trail?
JW For sure, although at present, I can tell you now, that paper trail does not exist any longer because whether right or wrong specifically Security Police destroyed most of their records in the early nineties, but at the time, yes, there would have been a paper trail in every single instance to prove the very point I'm now making. Can I tell you? I was the attorney take one example, there was a matter down at Nelspruit where Eugene de Kock and his men ambushed and murdered six people, there were six in a kombi. All the details have now come out during amnesty hearings. It was a cold-blooded, premeditated murder but at the time they structured the whole thing as self defence and I was the attorney although in the end I sent one of my guys, one of the attorneys in my section, and we actually presented the case in court on the basis of how we were instructed and we won the case.
POM You would have been instructed by?
JW By De Kock, well via the Police Department.
POM The Police Department?
JW Yes. We as lawyers, we consulted with the people and it now turned out that they were lying to us in a number of instances. I can't look into someone's head. I was presented with the facts of the matter, I went to court on those facts and I won the cases for them on what now turns out to be false versions. I must admit that. The Harms Commission, you must have heard of the Harms Commission of 1990, I represented the police as an attorney, consulted with all these people, presented the case. Many other instances where even I as the lawyer was not told the true facts.
POM The police were in fact lying to you.
JW Yes. And they lied to their own superiors. They lied, a guy like Johan van der Merwe, he must have told you that, they lied to him. Then via the media channels it would go up to the minister and the minister would make press statements based upon lies. Yes, we now know with the benefit of hindsight, it often happened. So I am not defending the politicians in all respects but in fairness to them I am also saying that specifically someone like Mr de Klerk who was not part and parcel of this inner circle of the security forces, he was an outsider to them.
POM In fact since he became State President he dismantled the State Security Council and the National Management Security System so they, if anything, wouldn't have liked him because he was cutting the securocrats out of there.
JW He was an outsider. He was seen as an outsider so therefore in fairness to Mr de Klerk I think that he's telling the truth if he says that a lot of these things he did now know about, because of the way the facts were changed somewhere along the line as it went up and up. I am not so sure whether Mr P W Botha can say the same, I'm not so sure. The predicament the politicians had in many aspects, I as the Attorney, I found myself in the same predicament. I often dealt with matters where I had my suspicions, yes, but what can I do? I consult with the people and I question them hard in my own office, I actually cross question them in my own office and they stick to their version, so what can I do? Often one had your own suspicions, of course. I think that is what Leon Wessels is trying to say when he said, "We suspected all along but we did not ask the questions." I can tell Leon Wessels even if he had asked the questions he would not have received the answer.
All I am saying is that as the attorney for the security forces I shared many secrets but secrets in the sense of covert structures, covert operations but not illegal operations in the sense of crimes. Crimes were hidden. Even I myself, and I always thought myself to be someone to be trusted by the security establishment, I know now that they kept it away from me as well, but for obvious reasons because as a practising attorney bound by ethical and professional codes it would have been untenable for me to be the attorney. Contrary to urban legend, specifically attorneys like myself, I'm not someone that if they say, well we murdered the people in such a fashion but please present our case in such a fashion, we don't practise like that, not at all. So there's no way that they could have told me the true facts and then accept that I would try and change the story. No. So I think that is part of the predicament that the politicians had and therefore I don't say the politicians should come along and say we knew everything because I don't think they did. All I'm saying is that the politicians created first the political dispensation within which the conflict in this country raged. Furthermore, they created the structures. I mean I have lots of sympathy for a man like Joe Verster of the CCB, an excellent soldier, and as I said he was one of my instructors thirty years ago when I became a paratrooper, he was a young permanent force member there, that's where I met him. An excellent solider but at the height of the struggle and the war in our country he was called upon to be the leader of a covert structure with a mandate to maximally disrupt the enemy, with vague rules.
POM That covert unit was?
JW The CCB, the Civil Co-operation Bureau. They called him the Managing Director, but was still a defence force structure. He was the Commanding Officer, he was a Colonel at the time. All I am saying is that the opportunity was created by the system for individual people to go wrong. You can think yourself, in a war situation if you create a unit saying your mandate is to disrupt the enemy maximally and you're not any more in a military uniform so the normal military codes and discipline are not any longer involved, one must expect that things can go wrong.
POM No chain of accountability.
JW The very, very thing I would say, if any. That's why I say to that extent the politicians should stand responsible for things like this even though they did not know the exact details of what was happening. The same goes for Vlakplaas, a police unit, the same I would think would apply there. Here's a unit that is created and given a certain rather vague mandate. Now in the end if things go wrong I say morally and maybe even legally it would be wrong for the politicians to deny and say we didn't know the exact facts of what was going on there so therefore we distance ourselves. I say it's not that simple, it was structures set up within which certain things took place and as the creator of those big structures you can't just walk away from that altogether. In that sense, that's what I mean to say, I think you understand why I'm saying to my mind there's a line to be drawn from the lowest foot soldier, and by that I mean policemen or military, I use the word 'soldier' as military forces, right up through the Generals, through the politicians to the State President. But it multi-faceted, it's not simple and you have listened to many people, it's not a simple yes or no or black or white, there are lots of grey areas where if you want to I can give you maybe one or two examples just to illustrate the point of what is right and what is wrong.
POM That would be helpful.
JW If I can take this example, we had the Security Police of our country, they had to defend the political onslaught against our country at the time to a large extent. Now, I've said it already, the intelligence capacity was excellent, excellent. They had informers everywhere and it's still a very sore point for the present government of the day, the whole system of informers because they had informers everywhere and a lot of those people are still as we sit here today in very high positions. It's still a very sensitive matter, the whole issue of informers. But here we had this situation where the Security Police would get information via a very sensitively placed informer to say tomorrow evening at 11 o'clock at that tree on the border between our country and a certain neighbouring country this terrorist (if you don't mind the wording) he would step across the border, this is his photograph, he will have this weaponry with him, maybe a few limpet mines or whatever, his mandate will be he must bomb this and this shop or shopping centre or whatever. That's the intelligence. So what happens? Let's tomorrow evening at half past ten, they sit there waiting for the guy and when he puts his foot across the border they'd grab him, but now immediately you can realise the problem. What do you do with the man? If you charge him, if you try and take him to court like any policeman internationally is supposed to do because the accepted police doctrine is minimum force court orientated actions, they must now arrest this guy and respect all his legal rights in terms of an arrest and all that which you in America would know, and then take him to court. But immediately you can realise the problems because your informer he's dead, his family is dead, they're all dead, the moment you try and take this guy to court because you have to divulge that kind of information. So what the Security Branch would have done is try and recruit this man as an informer and this often happened. You won't believe it but it often happened that they could persuade someone to become an informer within 24 hours and then put him back in the system and create certain credibility actions for him and he's a lifelong informer. But if they can't recruit the guy what can you do with him? You take him behind the tree and you shoot him through the head, short and sweet you kill him. Now in terms of our law that's murder, that's murder. Now the question arises morally, ethically, legally, what is right and what is wrong? Where do you draw the line in an undeclared war like this? Immediately you can realise how difficult the whole thing becomes once you get involved into all sorts of philosophical arguments along these lines. What is wrong? What is right? Because the policeman who did it he would say, I did the right thing, I was defending my country. This man was entering my country to destroy human life and property. I had no option. But in terms of our legal system that's plain murder. Now what can he do? He can't now report through his channels that he did that. He may be faced with criminal charges against him so he would keep silent, he would not divulge that information. Or else if he's compelled to do it he would try and change the facts to say that he acted in self defence. What is right and what is wrong? I as the Attorney
POM Let me put that back at you in this context the belief in the international community that apartheid was morally and politically wrong and that the ANC was fighting a just war against an unjust state that was repressing them, oppressing them in massive numbers of ways, that the ANC did not resort to violence until they had excluded every other option, i.e. the government simply refused to talk to them, period, and they said we have no option left. So they see themselves coming from a just war with morality on their side fighting against an unjust state, using immoral means to fight them.
JW Yes, well I can respond to that by saying that the security forces by and large also believed that they were defending a just cause in the sense that it was largely said, and I think it's been proven, that it was also a communist onslaught against our country and that the big forces of communism were using or abusing this liberation movement and their beliefs and motives to enhance their own ambitions and from the side of the security forces it was equally projected as they, we, our security forces were defending a just cause. Apart from the concept of apartheid it was seen, we were seen as the defence of the western system against the communist bloc in the whole global war system. So I can tell you now, just about every person in the security forces would say, yes, if you can try and isolate the issue of apartheid. I think many of us, and I'm telling you I'm one of them, I would say, yes, I can see that morally it can never be defended, in terms of my beliefs in my bible the same that the security forces regarded this as something much bigger, much bigger and I think it's been proven, a lot of it. Once again the right and the wrong of everything becomes so clouded and so grey. What is right? What is wrong?
I will give you one other example. You would have a situation where you know there's a person who is directing, who is in charge of infiltration operations into our country, sending freedom fighters, terrorists, into our country to harm people and property in our country but is still far outside the borders of our country. It's a war, he's sending his troops to come and kill you. What do you do? What do you do? It's difficult to put our troops on an aircraft and go and attack there because it may be very far away you will realise from a military viewpoint. Now the obvious thing is in terms of your intelligence networks and informers you spread the rumour, that guy is your informer, and within a month he's killed by his own people. Is that wrong? Is that right? Is it morally wrong? Is it legally wrong? In terms of your religion is it wrong? Is it murder? What is it when you did that? For me as a lawyer I find it extremely difficult because if you try and isolate certain facts you can easily say this is murder in terms of our criminal law but because of where I come from for me it's not that simple, it's not that simple at all.
The other day, about a month ago I represented a guy at one stage the ANC launched a landmine campaign along the northern borders of our country, a blanket of landmines. They said they aimed it at military vehicles, in the end civilians were killed. I represented a guy, his wife and children were blown to pieces by a landmine and these people are asking for amnesty for this. I asked these guys, why did you do this? Why didn't you put the landmines on roads used by the military vehicles as you were supposed to do? Why on a private game farm where you knew the military never came and you would have killed innocent people, like you did in that case? And that guy sat there and he said, "I still regarded this as a job well done and I'm proud of what I did." You must have seen this notebook, it's this instance, I mean terror, but that was the case. So I said to them, "So you're proud of what you did?" It was this very case. And he said, "Yes, as a proud ANC soldier fighting for the freedom of my people I'm proud of what I did and it was a job well done." Now from my side this is the most terrible thing I've ever seen in my life but it shows you how perceptions vary depending on where you stand in a 'war' situation like we had.
POM Which has no defined rules of engagement.
JW No defined rules. And that leads me to the TRC and their findings of what is the truth and what's not the truth. You've read the books, you must have read this little book as well. What is the truth? It depends on where you come from, it depends on what side you were, how you see it, because what is right for the one guy, for the one side, for the one person, for you maybe, is totally wrong for me. I was astounded that ANC people could say they're proud of this. In the same breath crimes that I represent on the side of the security forces, the same things also. Terrible. Like the example I gave you where they would kill someone because they would not be willing to expose their informers. It's the same thing, in a certain sense it's the same thing. It's murder, nothing else.
POM Do you think that supporters of the ANC or maybe even people like Helen Suzman who were in this country would say this fear of a communist onslaught was something thought up by the government or the security establishment to justify the continuing oppression of blacks, or do you think that the concerns about a communist onslaught from government level down to high security level were real and they themselves believed it? Or did they find it something convenient to say to keep the people on our side and just fill them full of propaganda that the commies are just over the border ready to come in, destroy their way of life, destroy their Christian values and replace it with atheistic communism and state ownership of everything?
JW It's a very complex question you're asking. I'm not a politician, remember that, I'm actually a civil servant or I've been one for 20 years. I think the truth is once again somewhere in between. I have seen many documents in my life saying exactly what people like Helen Suzman had been saying all along, that this big 'rooi gevaar' as we called it, the red danger freely translated, was a pie in the sky, was a phantom, it never existed, it was exactly as you put it now, it was used or abused by the government of the day to retain power by using this. I've also seen documentation in my life to the contrary establishing that this was in fact part of the bigger communist global expansion plan. It's difficult for me to say exactly objectively how big it was but what I can tell you, and that can never be disputed, is that people like myself, we were brought up to believe that it was a huge danger, threat to our country, this total onslaught, communist driven, because we know that the state at the time controlled the media to a large extent so I am prepared to say, to accept today as I sit here, that this whole communist danger was perhaps not that big. It may have been not that big as it was made out to be but the fact of the matter is it was made up. For every soldier of this country, me, when I was 17 years old I became a paratrooper and I would have died for my country fighting communists. That's the way we were told, that's the way we were given the bigger picture of the revolutionary war in our country and as a foot soldier you're not really in a position to travel abroad and study the big global politics to form your own opinion. You've got to rely on what you're told and of course there's got to be a degree of indoctrination, of course. So whether right or wrong but I can tell you, that was the position. I'm dealing today with many, many clients who still say we worked 24 hours a day defending our country against the communists and they absolutely believe it and I can't blame them because to a large extent it was also my own belief. But, yes, with hindsight and from an academic angle experts may be able to prove as we sit here that the extent of that danger was not that big at all.
POM When you, and I'm trying to get into your head this is what I do, I try to get into how the other person thinks so I can then explain to somebody else how the other person thinks so they appreciate why a person thought that way and did what they did. When you were in the army and left the army and went to university, was apartheid any part of your consciousness or was it something that you never really thought about?
JW At school I would say no, you're just a youngster enjoying life. At university, yes, I think most universities you've got this kind of culture of young people starting to question all sorts of values and I can remember at university going to all sorts of political meetings, whatever political party, and ask all sorts of clever questions and questioning everything. That is that stage of your life. During my final year at university, 1976, we had what we call the Soweto uprising. That was my final year, that was when I was in my fifth year, my final year law studies. 1976, and I think one really started debating with yourselves a lot of these things but, of course, not to the extent that the black people did because they were suffering under the system and it can never be denied, we were the privileged. There I was sitting at a fantastic university on state money, the state paid for my studies and I am even today, as I sit here, I am one of the privileged white people of this country even though I'm not wealthy at all. Yes, a lot of us in this country can be blamed and I think that is maybe what Leon Wessels also had in mind, that we didn't question certain concepts and beliefs and policies more. Yes to that extent I think we all are guilty, yes, I think we all are guilty. It's like last week I was abroad and I spoke to Americans and the one guy he said to me he still carries within him this guilt about what the Americans did to the Red Indians hundreds of years ago. It's that kind of thing. Of course I still, and I often say as I sit here, that, yes, one must accept the system wasn't right. We could have done it, we could have solved the problem maybe in a different way. We could have solved the problems without resorting to war. Other people would say the war was necessary because it prolonged the opposition to communism and when communism finally failed only then our country was ready for a new dispensation. There are lots of arguments in that.
POM To what extent was it either conscious or subconscious among your generation, even your parent's generation, that if you had one person one vote that meant blacks would rule the country and either drive whites out or take everything away from them or a black government would be a communist government or run by communists therefore black government became synonymous with communist government.
JW At that time I think that was the trend of thought.
POM Which one?
JW That should the blacks now come into power we would sit with a communist system in our country. I think that was the general idea amongst whites in those years. We're now talking about 25 years ago. I would think so, whether right or wrong, and it caused a degree of fear amongst the whites. I would say so in a general sense obviously, I can't be more specific.
POM Would that fear have been any less if the ANC or the liberation movement or whatever you want to call it had no associations whatsoever with the Communist Party but still would mean black rule?
JW I think so because you know I think the majority of whites in this country have been brought up along Christian doctrine which sees the communists as anti-Christ, so I would think so. Once again I'm now talking in general on behalf of millions of people. I may be wrong but in my own mind I would think so. It's somewhat hypothetical, it's difficult to go back in one's mind 25 years ago and tell yourself what you would have thought at the time your answer to a hypothetical question of what would have happened 25 years ago and how you would have felt about it, but I think so.
POM At the same time, distinct from the communists, whites were oppressing blacks.
POM The pass laws, the educational system that were there to serve the white man, a black person was considered to be an inferior human being, not up to the calibre of the white person so then it obviously that would mean in some way that he said, Jesus, if they get the vote then they'll be in the majority and we will have all these inferior people who can't do things will be running our lives.
JW It must have influenced our thought.
POM Do you have children?
JW I have. Two girls. The eldest was 21 two weeks ago, the youngest is 16, still at school.
POM So to the youngest if you talk about apartheid does she kind of look at you with glazed eyes and wonder what the hell you're talking about?
JW Yes there's a big difference. I can see that. We spoke a lot about it because last week I took my family abroad for ten days, we were in Europe. I thought that I owe it to my family because I don't think there will ever be an opportunity like that again because my eldest is visiting us now, for this month.
POM So you all went.
JW Yes the four of us, we came back on Sunday, and we talked a lot about this. I can see huge differences between them and myself in the sense that the way I was brought up there was a kind of a patriotism created towards this country, therefore when I went into the defence force I didn't object at all, in fact I thought this is my opportunity. I even volunteered to become a paratrooper. It was the way we were brought up and I've always said to myself I will one day die in this country, whatever happens this is my country. I have been here for some generations, here I will die. My children, they argue the thing differently. They don't share a lot of these sentiments necessarily. The way I see it is my parents they grew up and grew old under the system of apartheid. Our children to a large extent they will live under the post-apartheid system. My generation we stand on both. My working career of say 40 years, I worked 20 years in the apartheid system and I, hopefully if I'm lucky, I will work 20 years in the post-apartheid system. So in that sense we are in a very difficult position, my generation. We are the people who have come a long way with the old system but we must still go a long way with the new system. My father, for him it's easy, he turned 80 the other day. He grew up in the old system and he can never change and he will never change. He's an old man now and he will die that way. My children they grew up in the new situation to a large extent so to them
POM How do your children see things?
JW They question apartheid more freely because they know that they never voted for it. They can easily say what the hell did you folks do, what did you do with our country? Also I think they have to admit that they're part of the privileged at present. Even though we have a democratic system now where the blacks are the majority my children can see for themselves that we're living a good life, we're still living a good life we whites, a lot of us, and we have black people working for us and they don't have that good life standard at all. We are still the haves and they the have-nots.
POM The big fear of whites that some had that standards of living are going to drop dramatically never happened at all.
JW We're still
POM It probably went up a bit if anything. It didn't significantly fall.
JW We are still the haves and I think my children they benefit from that and for that they thank me, but they're more open minded and the world is becoming smaller and smaller, my eldest I think she will go abroad next year and work there for a year or two, what all the youngsters do these days. They don't necessarily share that, I think the word is patriotism, that my generation had because we were there in the defence force and, whether right or wrong, we defended our country. We have deep inside us a perspective that our children don't necessarily take over from us. I think they're much more open minded. But I envy them for the ease that they can connect with blacks and that they can liase and they can communicate and mix with them. They can live with them. To some extent I envy my children for that. They've got no problems, well that I can see, they're much more free and easy. For us it's more difficult because of the way we were brought up.
POM Especially your 21-year old, does she harbour any fears that when she finishes university there will be no opportunities for her in this country?
JW Not at all except that they're looking towards different aims than what we did. In my time you went to university to get your degree and then you went to the civil service for a career and an old age. That's what I did, what my father did. Now my children they realise that that avenue is not open for them. The civil service is out. Also they would tell you there's lots and lots of opportunities now for entrepreneurs, thinking people.
POM Who wants to be a civil servant for the rest of their lives!
JW That's the point. No, and therefore they study towards my eldest she's studying, doing a course in hotel management in the hospitality, catering business. She's in her third year now which is a practical year. She's the manager or the assistant manager of a guest house, also in Hermanus, I can tell you, that beautiful coastal town of Hermanus. She's working there in a guest house as a practical year this year. At the end of the year she will get her qualifications and then she's off abroad for a year or whatever, hopefully to come back and to do something in this country. No, I don't think they see it at all. My youngest, she's still at school, but she works weekends. Close to my place there's a big conference centre. She started working there cleaning the carpets and washing the dishes. Now at 16 she would set the tables, she would help preparing food, she would be a waitress, even a barman although she's under age. She's the only white working with a number of black people there and a lot of goodwill. When she walks in there all the black women would hug her and say, "Hello Chris", a lot of goodwill, very easy. In my time it would have been uncomfortable to hug a black woman. That's the simple fact, or a black person for that matter. For my children it's very easy. My eldest, she's now here visiting, the other day she walked there with her sister because she also worked there when she was at school and the black woman said, "Hello", hugged her, "Hoe gaan dit?" How are you? There's a lot of goodwill there and it is very free and open. To that extent I say things will be easier for my children. It will be much easier for them. They're growing up in another era than we did. My father will never change but we are the generation that will have to change because we're still too young. We have got 20, 30 years ahead of us, but also we were 20, 25 years in the old dispensation. For us I think it's difficult. For my children it's not difficult. I don't see it. It's not that difficult, things come naturally to them.
But, yes, they won't go to the civil service and therefore they don't study anything aimed at the civil service. In my time that was the automatic group. They say there are lots of opportunities in our country but away from the civil service. I will always remember this, Ken Owen, he was the Editor of the Sunday Times a few years ago, I remember him after 1994 when they started having affirmative action in our country and programmes for affirmative action, he wrote then an editorial saying in 1948 shortly after that the English speaking South Africans they complained a hell of a lot about the Afrikaners now being pushed into all sorts of positions but now after 40 years they say thank you because that made entrepreneurs out of them. And Ken Owen wrote there and said
POM The same thing has happened.
JW - the same will happen to the Afrikaners of this country. Now they're all complaining because they've been pushed out by the blacks but in another generation, in 40, 50 years time they will say thank you, thank you affirmative action because it forced the Afrikaans whites to fend for themselves and to become entrepreneurs.
POM In a way there is more an emigration of English speaking whites than there is of Afrikaners so there is kind of a void that the English are creating. Afrikaners are going to fill that void.
JW Yes and it forces you to think in an entrepreneurial way. I myself, I never did that. I studied at university, automatically followed to the civil service and there I was. Whereas my children they're forced to think along the lines of an entrepreneur and that's what Ken Owen said there and I will remember that. I think he will be proven very much correct. In another decade or two we Afrikaans speaking people will say the same, thank you for that. In the short term we may have been bitter. I was very bitter I can tell you because in a certain sense I was forced to resign. I didn't receive any pension or any package or anything. I left the civil service after 20 years with absolutely nothing.
POM How come?
JW I was too young to get the severance packages.
POM Weren't you guaranteed your job under the - ?
JW No but I resigned, I resigned. You must remember I resigned and I resigned because being headstrong, they started questioning my integrity and I couldn't take it and I said keep your job and shove it, I'm going. So I resigned, I left and I took a huge, huge financial loss.
POM But you would have paid into a pension fund, right?
JW I got that, that's all I got. My own contributions to the pension fund I got that back but I immediately reinvested that in a pension scheme. This thing of severance packages, like Christo Davidson, he received a huge lot of money as a severance package. I received nothing. Of course I was bitter in the short term but then life must go on. It was my own decision and one must look forward to the future. That's what I'm trying to do.
POM Maybe this might be an appropriate moment to leave it because we've got information I have to find out. I'd like to know about your family, what they think, how you think, how you have evolved, changed the world, because what you say - all different contexts to your own observations of events.
JW Well I can tell you this, my wife is very interesting. I met her in prison after she's been to a mental institution I met her in prison in a psychopath institution.
POM No, sorry, she was where? She was in - ?
JW In prison. She's a Clinical Psychologist. She was working for the prison services at the time, also a civil servant in other words. That's where I met my wife. Now you can realise very intelligent, thinking, typical psychologist, like what you apparently are doing, delving into the minds of people. She would call herself an expert on psychopaths because she was working in the psychopath institution here at a big prison outside Pretoria. But over the years she stopped practising to bring up my children and then she started a little hobby in needlework and she's working that up and up into a small business now.
POM What is she doing now?
JW Needlework, it's a needlework thing. At present she's got four black women working for her and four white women working for her and she's becoming an entrepreneur in her own right, working on a very good basis with both the blacks and the whites. Her name is the same as our dear Bishop, her name is Tutu, that's my wife. T U T U. Now even one of the black women working for her four or five years ago had a baby, a little black girl, and of course she's also little Tutu and the apple of my wife's eye, being favoured all along. That's how things have changed for us. It's forcing us to look at new opportunities, away from our old civil service secured careers. My wife as well.
POM I was 25 when I left Ireland and I was raised my father died when I was very young. He had been a detective. My mother before she got married was in the civil service and at that time, the late forties, Ireland was very poor, huge emigration and we went to school to get scholarships so that you could end up in the only secure jobs there were, the civil service or what you've got here, a parastatal or a bank. That was it. No-one ever went to school to end up in industry. If you joined industry you were looked down on.