About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

19 Sep 2000: Vlok, Adriaan

AV     I have to say at the beginning, I don't think that you have missed anything by not interviewing me earlier because I didn't play that important a part in the transition and so on. I was more involved before the transition but we had to maintain certain things and keep it in place. I moved from Police to Correctional Services.

POM     Just as you were talking, and from talking to you on the phone, it seems to me that you are a religious man.

AV     I am and I have been one my whole life. After I retired, our last meeting of the cabinet was on 10th May 1994, that was after the election, the elections were on 26th and 27th April, my wife died on 28th July 1994, and I was religious, I was born into a religious family, in a religious house, I grew up – my mother is still involved in religious matters, helping people.

POM     In the Dutch Reformed Church?

AV     Dutch Reformed Church, that's right.

POM     And your mother is still alive?

AV     She's still alive, she's 83 years old now, she's still involved.

POM     My mother was 84 on Sunday.

AV     Is that so? Wonderful. No she's still helping old people and people in need and we are helping her. She's staying with us in the house, there's a little flat. So I grew up in that environment and I was always religious, but after my wife died it was a great shock, it was a tremendous shock. Then people from the Gideon Movement, they sent me a card saying that they are sorry for what happened and they placed bibles in remembrance of my late wife. This really touched my heart to think that because of her death more than 1000 New Testaments and the Psalms, these little testaments, you know you will find it in the hotel rooms and so on, had been placed by this organisation. So I said I want to thank you. They invited me, I thanked them and then they invited me to join them and I said, "Thank you very much but I am here sitting with a history, I may be an albatross around your necks and I don't want to be a disadvantage to the organisation." Then they referred me to the bible and they said to me look at the bible, right at the beginning Moses killed an Egyptian and he fled and after 40 years the Lord said, "I still can use you", David, Saul who became Paul, so they convinced me that I should join this thing and since then, apart from the other activities, I am busy now with Gideons, I am involved in them, helping them collect money to buy bibles with and to spread the word of the Lord. So I had that opportunity and I thought it was the will of the Lord that I must change from one road to another one whilst in the past I was giving everything on the political playing field. This is maybe part of my problem, if I am committed to a course then I am wholeheartedly committed to a course. I could never stand on the sidelines and say carry on. I tend to get involved and now it is again the situation.

     The Gideon Movement is 50 years old in SA this year, the end of the week, and I am involved in organising this whole thing. We have our 37th Convention here in Pretoria, 50 years Gideons in SA, so I'm involved there now but it has a long history but that doesn't mean that I'm not a sinner. I'm a religious person, I believe in the Lord, I believe in Jesus Christ my saviour, I believe in the Holy Spirit, and people ask me frequently, "But if you say you are a Christian how is it possible that you have done things that you have done?" And I said, "Well I think Moses was a religious person, David was a person after God's own heart, and they committed sins", so I think the difference is you must remember that you must be prepared to admit that you have made a mistake.

POM     You're now living in retirement, at ease with yourself, you applied for amnesty and received amnesty from the TRC.

AV     And I'm very grateful, really very grateful for that.

POM     You spent most of your life fighting against the forces that now –

AV     Communists.

POM     - rule the new SA. When you look at your career do you feel that you have spent most of your life in the service of governments that instigated and enforced apartheid, that apartheid was inherently evil and wrong, morally wrong, and that in retrospect whites in general, collectively, owe the blacks of this country an apology for the damage they had done to them over not just the 40 years of apartheid but over perhaps centuries of racial oppression? Do you believe that or do you believe you were fighting on the side of righteousness?

AV     I believe that apartheid was a sin in all aspects and the basic sin was that I regard myself, and I'm using the word me or I, because this was what developed from apartheid, that I regarded myself as better than my fellow human beings and that was a mistake. That was a sin, that was a sin against the Lord because I'm no better than any other man. But there is another angle that is important to me and all my life, and I grew up as I said in a Christian environment, I was concerned, more than concerned, I was afraid of communism, the fruits of communism I feared it and I feared it for the whole time that I grew up in school, whilst I was an ordinary person, a businessman, whilst I was a member of parliament, whilst I was a deputy minister and a minister. I said communism is bad for the world and it will be very bad for SA.

POM     When you went to church would Dominees preach against the evil of communism?

AV     Yes.

POM     That this was a threat to the world?

AV     That's right, and you must remember at that stage from my point of view looking at communism, it was their heyday, they were rolling across the world. Hungary, what happened to Hungary? What happened to Africa, the countries where communism put their foot down in Africa? What happened to these countries? We have had the example of Ethiopia and there are other countries too. We had the example of Angola. So communism really, communist domination, imperialism, domination by communist forces, was a very, very real threat to my mind. We were really in a catch-22 situation. We had to fight communism but we were also giving communism a good excuse to fight against us with apartheid. So we were bringing it on ourselves what happened to us and we should have done it quite differently.

POM     When you say apartheid was or is a sin, did you realise that while you were a serving deputy minister and minister or did you realise that afterwards on reflection?

AV     I realised that, I never had this type of Damascus experience. Over the years it developed in my mind, jong but, phew, this is wrong, what you are doing is wrong, you can't do that. I didn't have like one morning and said it is a sin. It developed over a period, over the years, not only since I became a minister or deputy minister. I went on a visit to Taiwan whilst I still was an ordinary MP and what I saw there, the history, the cultural history of certain people and in my country, I realised that in my country these people, people from Taiwan, Chinese people, they were regarded as second-hand citizens and their culture is older than mine, so who am I to say, phew, they are second-hand to me. This started there. Then I also visited the United States whilst President Carter was President. They invited me and I toured the US and I came back and I said to myself and to my people, "Phew, we are making a mistake, we are really making a mistake." But to directly say to you that I didn't realise suddenly on one morning that apartheid was a sin, it developed over a period but it started way before I became a minister or a deputy minister.

POM     When you were a minister and in the cabinet and when PW Botha was first Premier and then the State President, did you make your feelings about apartheid known to him, were there other members of the cabinet who felt the same way that you did? Did you share these feelings with anybody or were these things that you kept to yourself?

AV     I must be quite honest with you, I didn't do it enough and it was rather easy to do that because at that stage we were fighting, we were aimed at preventing communism to take over our country and the danger of communism was very real to us, very real to my mind and to this day I still believe that since the fifties if the governments following the NP government since the 1950s, if they hadn't stood up and fought communism, the communists would have taken over SA and then the situation in this country would have been much worse than it has been since the fifties. I firmly believed it and I still believe it to this day. So when you spoke about things that were bothering you, and I admit I didn't do it enough. I concentrated on preventing communists to take over the country whilst giving the people responsible for change the opportunity to bring meaningful change into being.

POM     Now you as Minister for Law & Order would have been (i) a member of the State Security Council and (ii) you would have presided from 1986 on over the state of emergency where up to I think at one point you had 30,000 people detained?

AV     Yes, I only became minister in 1987. My predecessor he was before me, 1986. But you are right, I was a member of the State Security Council and I was in control of the state of emergency. I don't intend to try and defend myself. I don't want to be my own lawyer because if it's wrong it's wrong.

POM     What I suppose I'm trying to get at, Mr Vlok, is the difficult thing of the nature of truth and particularly when you're talking about a different period in time when things were in a different setting, like – and I'm just quoting here from the book by Archbishop Tutu where he's quoting about when General van der Merwe was head of the police and a member of the State Security Council and they quote from the minutes of one of those meetings. It says that the minutes of the meetings of the SSC were full of words like 'destroy', 'eradicate', 'wipe out', 'eliminate', and he would ask, "What did you understand that to mean?" And the example was quoted, there was never any lack of clarity about 'take out' or 'eliminate', it meant that the person had to be killed. So in the SSC when language like this was used, and it's documented, you had people like General van der Merwe understanding it to mean that the people you were talking about are the people engaged in certain activities and had to be taken out, i.e. had to be killed. What did you understand that language to mean? Were you using that language yourself? Were you saying we're in a war, an unconventional war and it's a dirty war and we had to take out people, we had to get rid of the enemy and if that means that we do it using illegal means then we use illegal means?

AV     I refer to that also in my amnesty application when they questioned me on that. We were not careful enough about using language like this. Now I cannot remember that I ever used a word 'eliminate' meaning that you must kill a person personally. But I addressed hundreds of meetings of policemen and of soldiers and after they gave me briefings on the situation I would speak to them, I would motivate them to solve the problem, sort out the situation, to make a plan. I normally spoke in Afrikaans and in Afrikaans I would like to say, "Maak 'n plan", make a plan, solve the problem, I cannot solve the problem for you. I cannot remember that I ever said 'eliminate' a man. If I said that I would have meant kill him so therefore I never gave that instruction to people to go out there and kill people. Take a man away, take him out of the community, we used that word frequently. By that I mean we had the power to detain people, take them away from the community. But that's why I admitted when I was before the Amnesty Committee and the TRC that we have used these words and we were not careful enough to check the minutes afterwards because what happened was many of the ministers of the SSC were directly coming from documentation that was before us, being drawn up by the army, by the defence force. It was normal wording for them to use that. But I admit before the TRC that by using these words we put the people down in the line, we put them in a position that they could not have understood anything else than to eliminate the person. That's why I had to take responsibility, moral responsibility for what they did, and this is what I did.

POM     Were you aware, like Eugene de Kock says on a number of occasions, you went to Vlakplaas to congratulate members of his unit on some operations they had carried out, would you know that those operations had entailed the murder of people? Would you know that ANC sympathisers had been eliminated, killed? Would you know that people had been abducted? Were you aware that within the police structures, the Security Branches, that in fact there were certain Generals who were running hit squads? Were you aware of any of those things?

AV     No. Nobody ever informed me about murders that had been committed by the police, murders.

POM     But there would have been implicit understanding as distinct – I mean I wouldn't expect a General to come in to you and say, Minister, we murdered three ANC activists today. I would say, listen, if you were engaged in activity like that please don't tell me.

AV     This never happened, and this is why I also said to the TRC and the Amnesty Committee, this is where I was wrong. I made the mistake. The TRC thought that because of the way in which I operated was to go down to people on the ground and to talk to them and to listen to them. They thought, they questioned me on it, they thought that the Constable or the Sergeant would inform me that they have done this or that, and it never happened. But there were many instances where people from the ground did not even inform the Generals what was going on on the ground. There were instances where the Generals decided not to inform me. Now I thought a lot about that, why did this happen? I think in the first place they did it for my own protection, but there's another important reason, Mr PW Botha was very strong on this one point, the need to know. He would frequently, he would say after a cabinet meeting, he would say to two or three of my colleagues, "Would you please stay behind." Then there were no people to take minutes, there were just two or three of us sitting there and he would say, "Look, we have a problem here. What can you do about it?" He never told me to kill anybody. He said, when he spoke about Khotso House, I was the only guy sitting there with him and he said, "My colleague, we can't allow this to go on. You must go out there, you must do something. You must do something about the building which is being used by these people, is being misused by forces attacking us, attacking innocent people. You must do something about it." It was only the two of us, nobody else there. This was the way in which he worked. This was the way in which I worked to my Generals and to the people down in the line. So that is what really happened. Therefore it wasn't only me who had stayed behind on many occasions. It was the Minister of Foreign Affairs who stayed behind on many occasions. It was the Minister of Finance staying behind on many occasions listening to what he had to say. I don't know what he told them because we never, and he impressed it upon me –

POM     Would he deal with each minister individually?

AV     Sometimes two, sometimes one, sometimes three ministers depending on what he had to say to us and it was a very strong guideline running straight through his administration, the need to know. So I did not tell the Generals everything that I knew, that I was informed about, and I told them the need to know basis is applicable to all of us. This was as far as I am concerned a very strong guideline for people down, down, downwards. We had this incident where the student from Mamelodi was killed, they dumped his body into a river, I can't even remember his name. But the Commissioner of Police admitted with his amnesty hearings that he did not inform me. I didn't know. I stood up in parliament, they gave me a note saying what happened. I defended that in parliament and they didn't inform me. They admit now at the amnesty hearing, they admit now that they didn't inform me. So I know it is difficult for people like you to say you should have known, and I should have known. This was my mistake. I should have listened more intently to voices from the other side but I didn't listen to those people.

POM     The other side being?

AV     The side where Desmond Tutu was, the freedom movement. I didn't listen to them, I listened to my people. When you asked the Commissioner what happened, what is going on - ?

POM     So when Helen Suzman was saying in parliament that this person is being detained and tortured, this person is being detained and tortured, you'd say, nonsense?

AV     I don't believe you. That was frequently the problem. I should have put structures in place to better investigate that. That was a mistake. I should have listened to what these people were trying to tell us but, once again, and this is not an excuse, I've admitted that it was a mistake from my side, but the fact of the matter was we were fighting them. When you are fighting somebody you don't listen to your enemy, you listen to your own people and if I can try and find an excuse for my own people they thought, OK, the minister, the government, is on my side.

POM     So did you make any differentiation between, say, Helen Suzman and a member of the ANC, or would you say they're really both on the same side?

AV     No, I have a very high regard for Helen Suzman, I think she's a wonderful person, wonderful lady, but I thought she was being fed disinformation by the opposing side. What she did I still believe was on the level, above board, she put it genuinely and truly before me on many occasions but I thought her information was wrong because where did she get her information from?

POM     So when incidences would happen like a 'suicide' in jail, somebody slipping on a bar of soap and falling out of the 10th floor window of John Vorster Prison, you never said something's wrong here, that's the tenth person who's fallen out of a window or on a bar of soap?

AV     In every case like this the judge or a magistrate was appointed to investigate. This was done. But I did not have any control over the information, the evidence that was put before that person. We had the Harms Commission, afterwards I now learned that information, evidence that was put before Judge Harms was cooked, was not the correct information. So you see if the people who were in control of that situation, if they put wrong information before the Inquiry, you really can't win, you really don't know. This is what happened to me. This is what happened to General van der Merwe. We didn't know and if I didn't know I couldn't have told anybody higher up. I could be saying something is wrong, but what is wrong? And once again I should have been more careful as far as this is concerned. I should have put structures in place to investigate.

     But there is another point that is important here. We were fighting with 2000 security policemen, we were fighting this war against suppression and all these people. We had to try and maintain the stability in the country so it was important to motivate the police, and this is the problem that they have now, policemen are not motivated, five o'clock they go home, they leave the dockets on the table. These policemen worked right through the night because of the motivation that it succeeded in putting into and I have been motivating them right across the country. So it was, once again, a catch-22 situation. If they have been involved in bad things, in terrible deeds as have come out now, if I have to make a choice I would say let me motivate, not to kill people but to sort out the problems. Part of their sorting out of the problem was to kill and that I didn't know.

POM     Leon Wessels said before the TRC, "I do not believe the political defence of 'we did not know' is available to me because in many respects I believe we did not want to know."

AV     That's right. I agree with that.

POM     Did you suspect that killings might be going on, that there might be hit squads but you simply didn't bother to enquire because you didn't want to know?

AV     No, I didn't suspect that hit squads were going on. I said, no, policemen will not do this sort of thing. So I didn't know, I didn't suspect. I agree with Leon, I didn't go out of my way to find out and I should have done that.

POM     But did you ever have suspicions? There was an awful lot of violence in the country, there were people disappearing, there were bodies showing up. Did it ever cross your mind as to why bodies were showing up and who was killing them?

AV     But you must remember there were bodies, hundreds of bodies showing up all the time and in this – you know we were at that stage of the unrest, there were 80,000 incidents of unrest over a period of time and when I asked about these things the reply that I got was to that extent that we were not involved.

POM     Do you feel that, now you applied for amnesty, but that the whole government should have applied for amnesty? Wendy Orr says it has been an accusation made against Mr de Klerk particularly during his testimony and at his second hearing where he just maintained all the time: I did not know, I did not know. Now you can quote me whatever incidents about Goniwe, about Port Elizabeth, about Vlakplaas but I did not know, I never knew. I never commissioned, I never this, I never that. And he took no responsibility and she just quotes, and I want you to think of the quote, she says: -

     "Mr de Klerk refused to accept that any human rights violation had occurred with the knowledge or sanction of senior government officials and made it clear that government policy had never contemplated abuses as a method of retaining power. By doing so he abandoned every one of his operatives from General to foot soldier and effectively made it very difficult for them to be granted amnesty. If they had been mavericks, male fides, bad apples, they could not get amnesty. He also missed out on a wonderful opportunity to show again the statesmanlike qualities which had earned him the joint Nobel Prize."

     He absolved himself. Pik Botha absolved himself, Barend du Plessis absolved himself, every minister except yourself and General Malan absolved themselves completely and said we as a government, in the middle of war, whatever you want to call it, absolve ourselves of all responsibility for the actions of our Generals and our foot soldiers. It's their fault, not ours. Perhaps we should have been more vigilant individually and collectively but we weren't. Isn't that kind of turning the … of accountability and responsibility on its head?

AV     I was not prepared to do that.

POM     To do what?

AV     To run away from my responsibilities.

POM     No you weren't but –

AV     I agree with you. But let me just come back to the first remark that you made, you know to apply for amnesty you have to give particulars of things that you know about and that you know and that you may have committed a crime. To be quite frank with you I never informed Mr de Klerk or PW Botha that the police were committing murder because I didn't know. So it was difficult for them to come forward and to say we want to apply for amnesty for this and this and these deeds because they couldn't do that. But after saying this I agree with that part that you have read to me. It was a golden opportunity for us to come forward and to take responsibility for what we did in the sense that it was us who created a framework and a foundation. We laid the foundation on which these policemen and soldiers based their actions. I addressed them on many occasions, Pik Botha addressed them on many occasions telling them to go on. Mr John Vorster said, "We will chase them wherever you are and we will go after you whatever the cost." I said it was a mistake for us not to come forward and to accept the responsibility for the deeds of our foot soldiers. This is what I did. I could not absolve myself and stand on the sidelines. I was involved in the fight, but that was why it was possible for me because I was directly involved in the bombing of Khotso House, in the bombing of Cosatu House and in this Cry Freedom situation. These are the three things that I know of.

     In my amnesty application there is an open part, the same as has been done by Mr Mbeki and some of his members in his cabinet, 27 or 37 of them and there are more I think, about 60 or 70 of them. They would address a meeting in a camp in Zambia telling his cadres, his people, to go to SA and fight the war, kill the Boers. He didn't know what the guy did with his words but they applied for a type of general amnesty and that was the difference, they accepted responsibility for these deeds or they don't know what deeds have been done under this umbrella. That was the difference and I think this is where we made a mistake. I think it is a fault in the law, the amnesty law. There should have been a provision whereby I could have said I addressed hundreds of meetings, on many occasions I said to policemen, "Here at this little town you must make a plan with the culprits here, with the people causing all the trouble, with the people killing people, burning houses, burning of bodies, necklaces, you must make a plan with these guys." I took responsibility although I didn't know but this opportunity we should have seized to take responsibility, moral responsibility, because I didn't know. But my amnesty application says this open part, it is still there, still open, like Mr Mbeki. The TRC gave them amnesty and it was overturned by the court so it is still open and I think that these are some loose ends that will have to be tied before we can finish this whole process.

POM     Do you think had Mr de Klerk taken advantage of that opportunity to say: I on behalf of not just myself but my ministers, and indeed the ministers of previous governments, accept responsibility for the wrongs that we have done, collectively I accept that responsibility and collectively I apologise to people who were killed, maimed or injured or whose human rights were violated during the period under review, do you think that had he done that that a chapter in your history would have been much closer to being closed than today it is still a festering sore?

AV     I agree with you, yes, it would have been better. I don't know whether in his submissions to the TRC whether he didn't try to touch on it but I just have the feeling that a direct admission, a direct admission to the TRC, to SA and to the world not only by Mr de Klerk but also by his predecessor. What I really proposed, and it was not only me who did this, what we really proposed to Mr de Klerk at that stage was let's all of us go before the TRC, let's tell them, what I've been trying to tell you this morning, why have we been fighting this war. It is important for us, it was important for us to stay in power but we were not power crazy, we proved it when Mr de Klerk came after the communists came to a fall in Eastern Europe, when we saw that window of opportunity to go through there and to change the whole structure. So if we, all of us should have gone, we should have done that, all of us, the previous ministers in previous governments should have gone to the TRC and let each and every one of us tell the story why have we done what we did.

POM     Why, you always talk about the communists of implying in a sense that every member of the ANC was a communist or that the ANC was a communist front –

AV     Being used by the communists.

POM     Being used by – but yet their history doesn't quite show that.

AV     Yes but the fact of the matter is they were being used by Russia and by other communist countries to further the aims of communism. There can be no doubt about that.

POM     When you say there can be no doubt about it, do you have hard intelligence that shows that? Was intelligence put before the SSC that showed that the Russians are funding the ANC, they are supplying them with weapons, their aims are to establish a bridgehead in SA?

AV     Yes, yes. There was no doubt in my mind and we had evidence as far as this is concerned, we had this in many court cases that the aims of communism were being furthered by people in these freedom movements. So there can be no doubt about that. I don't know whether you have seen the admission by the General who was in charge of the southern part of Southern Africa from the Russian side, he admitted long afterwards, he admitted that their plan was to use the ANC as a vehicle to overthrow SA.

POM     Who is this?

AV     General Kalugin. And he came to SA after the changeover and he was interviewed by the media, I can give you copies of his interview, I will give it to you, I have it. So there was no doubt in our minds why we were really doing that and he said they used the ANC as a vehicle to overthrow the state. At that stage the rest of the free world, America, were in a fight against communism. We received information, we were informed reliably about the Russian plan to get hold of southern Africa, it was called a treasure house as far as minerals, strategic minerals are concerned. If they could get hold of this, it was strategically situated, it was the treasure house of strategic minerals, it would have put the communist bloc into a much better position against their enemies, the western world, the free world. So in a sense we saw ourselves standing in the trenches against this enemy, a common enemy.

POM     Both when you were in the Department of Defence and Minister of Law & Order and a member of the State Security Council, you would have been called part of the securocrats, did you work with western agencies, did the CIA and other western agencies, particularly the CIA and intelligence units in the US, supply you with information regarding ANC activities in the Soviet Union or what the ANC strategic designs were in SA? Was there a sharing, an act of sharing of information?

AV     I was not in charge as minister of our Department of National Intelligence so they never came directly to me. Niel Barnard and his people would put before the SSC and at the cabinet, they put information about what was going on on numerous occasions.

POM     Would they say we have received this information from our friends?

AV     They never tell, their information they kept it secret, they would inform us. There were documents, documented, put before cabinet and the SSC on a regular basis of what was planned by the communist countries against SA and that was put before us on a regular basis. We received from them, the police, you know we operated against more on the ground inside SA so I never had this direct contact with the CIA but I believe it was there because they had the information and it was put before us.

     So just to come back to this, I think we missed a golden opportunity, as has been said there, we missed a golden opportunity to go before the TRC and say OK, admit, we have made mistakes, we have done this wrong and this was wrong, apartheid was a sin but let's just sit down and say we were not mad, we were not power crazy. I believe, and I believe it to this day, if the communists succeeded in the fifties and in the sixties to overthrow the government in power in SA, SA would have been a devastated land the same as many countries in Africa, and not only in Africa but in the rest of the world. What is the situation in East bloc countries at the moment? I haven't been there but if you read about what happens in these countries they have been devastated by communism. So I can really say that this was fundamental to me. I was against communism and this is why, and people tend to forget what happened, people have short memories, people tend to forget what the situation was because communism is not the same type of threat anywhere in the world as it has been in the sixties and the seventies and the eighties. I mean what happened to these countries? It wasn't stories, it was fact. The other day, a couple of months ago, I saw that some French people now came forward with a figure that communism right across the world, communist countries, they were responsible for killing, murdering 100 million people. That's not me who was saying that, it's independent people and it still amazes me to this day. There are people screaming for TRCs right across the world, in Australia, even in America: we must have a TRC because of the people that have been killed. But the main culprit as far as the destruction of human rights is communism. Nobody is asking them to put up a TRC so that they can come forward and say we have done all these wrongs.

POM     Did you ever say in cabinet or to PW Botha, listen, blacks have legitimate rights, we are denying them legitimate rights, the right the vote. We've got the influx control laws in place, we've got pass laws in place, we have the two sign black and white in place, petty apartheid and grand apartheid, and we're obviously doing wrong here and until we redress these wrongs we are going to have a situation of continuous unrest in this country, a situation that might be exploited by the communists but unless we begin to address these wrongs in some serious way we're always going to have a situation of unrest?

AV     We realised exactly what you have been saying now. We realised that we couldn't go on.

POM     We being?

AV     The cabinet, all of us, all of us realised that, from PW Botha down to all of us. But we said, and this has been the case since the sixties when Dr Verwoerd realised that, he said we must do something about this and the way in which we try to rectified these wrongs were the homelands, separate development. Separate development, apartheid and from that concept we have the problems that we are facing today. So we realised that we must do something and we couldn't on like this and on many occasions in cabinet we would have a discussion on what should be done, but the solution as far as we were concerned was to give them their rights but not in the way in which they asked for it. You must remember we said if we allow the black people who are the vehicle in bringing in communism in SA, if we should allow them to do this in the way in which they want to do that we will be dead in the sense that they will send us to camps. What's happened in Russia with dissidents? We would have been the minority and we would have been the dissidents. What would they have done with us? That's what they did in the rest of Africa. So they would have instituted in SA and we had many, many evidences as far as this is concerned, we listened to Radio Moscow and all these, Radio Freedom. We would have in the words of the late Mr Joe Slovo, they want a classless, communist society for SA. And we said no, what would happen to religion? I felt strongly about that and I still feel strongly about this today, but today they are not the same threat because communism is not the same threat in the world today as has been the case ten, fifteen years ago. This is why we could have changed the whole thing and said, OK let's try and beat them in a different way.

POM     When you say apartheid was a sin, or is a sin, what do you mean by that?

AV     I say the sin lies there in that I, a human being, regard myself better than a fellow human being, a creature of God, and according to the Word we are all His creatures. From that concept, from that basic viewpoint stem all the problems. Then we said, no we can't go with you to the same church, we can't go with you to the same school, we can't stay in the same neighbourhood. This is wrong. This is the basic thing that I think was wrong, basically wrong, it was a sin.

POM     So when you hear critics of apartheid say that whites were racist, that in fact they considered themselves superior to black people, do you agree with them?

AV     We were considering ourselves superior to black people, that was the basic sin, but we tried to solve that sin, solve that problem by bringing them, putting them in their own country, in their own homeland. This is the way in which we tried to solve that problem. It didn't work.

POM     But you're a bright man and as I said to you, we have a problem, 87% of the population are black, 13% are white and we're going to solve the problem by making them equal and the way we're going to make them equal is that we're going to take the 87% and we're going to give them 13% of the land.

AV     That was wrong.

POM     So separate development in itself was wrong?

AV     Not the development, the development was OK but the way in which we structured it, as you put it now, 87% against 13%, that was wrong. I couldn't defend that. So I once again would like to say we tried to solve that and to salve our conscience by saying this is wrong, the only way in which we can solve it was not going and giving them what they asked because what did they ask? They asked that they would want to control the power in this country, power to the people. We said, OK if we give power to the people what would happen to SA because we regard the people in control of the people to be dominated and controlled by communists and then the people and their leaders would destroy everything that was dear to us, first of all religion. There would have been no religion in this country. We wouldn't have been a religious country if the communists had taken over this country in the fifties and the sixties. We have seen it in Africa. What happened to religion in Eastern Europe? Now God does not need us to do his work, he can do it quite easily and better than we could but the fact of the matter was this was our viewpoint and we fought against that with everything that we could muster.

POM     Were you fighting for – on the one hand I hear you saying two things: that apartheid was evil, not just wrong but evil.

AV     Evil, yes. It was against the will of the Lord.

POM     On the other hand communism was evil. So you were using one evil to fight another evil, catch-22.

AV     Catch-22, but we said apartheid was evil but if we could make apartheid, separate development succeed, flowing from apartheid, if we could make it succeed then it would not be evil. That was the mistake, we couldn't do that. So coming back to the basics again was to that basic thing that I say was a mistake, it was evil, it was a sin against the Lord and against my fellow man.

POM     So when Archbishop Tutu said, it's quoted here by Wendy Orr, this was after De Klerk's testimony, she says: -

     "In the privacy of the commission meeting the next week some commissioners objected to the way Mr de Klerk had been treated. The Archbishop did weep saying he, Mr de Klerk, knew and he did nothing. Why can't he accept responsibility and say sorry? He knew."

     Was Archbishop Tutu weeping for something - ?

AV     This was the opportunity that I think Mr de Klerk and PW Botha should have used to bring together all their cabinet members so that we could have testified before the TRC what was really happening. This is where I think they missed the opportunity. Now it was difficult for me to go before the TRC Amnesty Committee and to say that this is the framework within which the Security policemen and the soldiers worked and this framework was not created by them, it was created by the political leaders. And I took the little responsibility that I could as far as I was concerned.

POM     What puzzles me, forgive my puzzlement, when the TRC comes out and says there were tens of thousands of violations of human rights by the security forces and all the people who were in control of the security forces almost collectively say, "Gee, we never knew a thing about these violations", it seems contradictory. How can so many tortures have been carried out without there being an awareness? How can there have been the Rand Daily Mail, for example, closed down? How come there were so many people, you had thriving anti-apartheid movements saying these things were happening and you had a government saying crush that movement, don't believe them, rather than saying investigate and find out whether these things are happening? There would have been no TRC without Eugene de Kock. Probably nobody would have applied for amnesty.

AV     I wouldn't say that Eugene de Kock was the man who was really responsible for the institution of the TRC.

POM     Not the institution but he mentioned names of people who were involved in hit squads and killings and then they began to step forward and name other people and other people named other people.

AV     In that sense, yes. But once again you must come back to the law, the Act, the TRC Act. There is a definition of human rights violations and many of the human rights violations that took place, in my mind, against other fellow South Africans do not fall under the Act, under the definition of human rights violations. But you see the moment you started getting involved in this then you are, what Mr de Klerk tried to do, he's a lawyer and he's a very good lawyer, he's a very intelligent man, he tried to use all these things. I said, OK, I must comply with the law, I must comply with the Act, but I must go wider, there are moral things involved. Nobody could prosecute me for certain things, for the things when I was detaining a person and the way in which he was treated. They couldn't prosecute me for that but it was wrong against the guy, it was wrong against his family and I know about that. So, therefore, I said, no, no, I must take responsibility for this framework and I think this is where maybe my viewpoint and that of Mr de Klerk differs. He said, "You can prosecute me for certain things. I didn't know about anything", and I think he was right, he didn't know. The fact of the matter, he was and all his predecessors were the people responsible for the framework under which was an umbrella, under which all these atrocities had been committed although many of them do not fall under the law but all the things happened: the removal of people, the way in which we treated people. It doesn't fall under the law, you couldn't apply for amnesty in terms of the law. You could only apply for amnesty in terms of the law if you had committed a crime, not against humanity, but a crime in terms of the law. So that's why I could have taken my chances and said I would like to go to court, prosecute me. I would stand up there and say I just executed an order. I don't think it would have been a good excuse because I had the right to say no to Mr PW Botha. I had the right to say to him, sorry, sir, I'm not going to do that. You can fire me. And he probably would have fired me if I had done that. The fact of the matter is I took that decision to do what I did and for this, because it was a crime, I said I must go to the Amnesty Committee.

POM     But you did subsequently inform Mr de Klerk that you had ordered the bombing of Khotso House on the instructions of P W Botha.

AV     Not immediately afterwards, after he became a minister he became the President. I said to him after the changeover, I said to him that I was involved in these bombings and I intend to apply for amnesty. He said, "OK, I will not stop you. It's your decision."

POM     Didn't he say, oh my God! Gee! Things like that were going on? I've got problems! He just picks up the information and - ?

AV     No, his reply to me was, "It's your decision so thanks for telling me, but it's your decision."

POM     Would that response not suggest to you that in a way the fact that he didn't show surprise that a State President could be directly involved in ordering a criminal act, that he showed no surprise at that at all suggests that in a very subjective way that he wasn't surprised that these things had happened?

AV     You must remember the time when I informed him that I intended to apply for amnesty, it was after all this information came out in the media and people were submitting affidavits, so it was not news. He surely had read about this in the papers so I didn't really think it strange about that. At that stage he must have known because it was all over the media already.

POM     Inkatha, the relationship with Inkatha in 1990?

AV     It was very good. My relationship with Inkatha was very good. Inkatha was, as far as I'm concerned under the leadership of Dr Buthelezi, was a movement that deserved the support of the government. Dr Buthelezi is a Christian, they were anti-communistic and they were against sanctions. They were against the policy of the NP as far as the homelands were concerned, they were not prepared to do that. So that's another point that I may mention why we were not really fighting, let me put it positively, why we were fighting on a broader basis in the sense that we were prepared to work with people who were not supporting anything that we did but supporting us when we were trying to prevent the killing of innocent people, as has been the case in KZN for quite a while.

     Sorry, I have to be in Centurian by 12 o'clock. It's me that's wasting your time, I must admit so sorry for that, but I put my people on – they are going there but I don't know what's going to happen after 12 o'clock.

POM     They're not going to be there! Thank you.

AV     You're welcome. I still have a few minutes if there are still certain things you would like to ask, and let me say this, if you come back to SA and you want to talk to me again, there are certain things that you want to clarify, you're welcome. Maybe I will have time.

POM     I think what you are saying is very important, that it is the first time that I have heard anybody who was a minister in government say that apartheid was a sin, that it was morally wrong and that many wrongs were committed in its name. One of the aspects that I have been trying to explore in some depth is the degree to which the top echelons in the country and the people believed in the total onslaught.

AV     The people believed that totally, the majority, excluding the black people. The white minority believes the total onslaught.

POM     Some people would say that they were 'brainwashed'.

AV     You may call it brainwashing but we were quite effective in our putting it before them, right across the country people were accepting it. The TV, the radio, in the schools, there was no doubt in the minds of, I would say, 80% of white South Africans that we were the object of a total onslaught manipulated or driven by the communist cause. No doubt, and this is actually what General Kalugin said. (You must give me your address – I can fax it through to Jan.)

POM     Yes, OK.

AV     You told me that you were going to see him sometime later in the week. I'll send it to him, fax it to him and you can have it.

POM     OK. We'll leave it at that.

AV     Once again I would like to repeat, if you want to speak to me again you're most welcome. I enjoyed it.

POM     I'll have the transcript prepared for you and sent to you so you will have it and then I might have some questions, follow up questions resulting from the transcript. When will you have all the building done?

AV     It will be done in a week or two I hope.

POM     As I said what I'm doing is an oral history that is comprehensive and it's got to take every side and every point of view into account and treat every point of view with the same seriousness as one would treat another side.

AV     I really appreciate your attitude as far as this is concerned because, you know, and this is normal in history as far as I know, the victor always has the say and the person losing the battle he doesn't have anything to say, nobody listens to him any more. But I still firmly believe that we are not losers because now we have in SA a government, there are communists sitting in there, but it isn't a communist government, so communism and if you look at it from this point of view, look at the shift that the Communist Party and the communists, look at the tremendous shift, the quantum leap that they had to do make.

POM     Mrs Thatcher would be proud of all of them.

AV     Of course, of course. Where are they today? Where have they been? If you look, and I can still hear the voice of Radio Freedom what they intended to do, and where are they today? Look at Trevor Manuel, we detained Trevor Manuel for many years because he was a firebrand. Look at Alec Erwin, he was a communist. I don't know whether he's still one but he was a hard-line communist. What he had been telling Joe Slovo, what he had been telling people, the shift that they had to make to come to where they are today. So that's where people would come to me and say but what we've done was useless, it was a waste of lives. I said, no, it was not useless, it was not a waste of lives because you protect in this country and in this part of the world, you protect a very important thing, first to my mind is religion, freedom of religion that we have here, you protected that, and then you protected the free market value system. If SA had been taken by the communists in the fifties what would have happened to this country? Look at Africa. It's not we who are responsible for what's happening in Africa, all the terrible things and hunger and the chaos. We have succeeded in building up SA because of the protection against communism. If they had taken over this country what would they have done to it? I can imagine, they would have destroyed it.

POM     Do you feel the settlement that was reached in 1993 was a fair and equitable settlement?

AV     Yes. I'm quite happy with it.

POM     Do you like the new SA, despite the crime and all that do you think it's - ?

AV     I think they are not doing enough as far as crime is concerned but I learnt one lesson when you are off the field: you are off the field, stay off that field. I can look at the field, I can look at the players, I have my own viewpoint as far as the way in which they are playing. It's very interesting to me to see that the Minister of Safety & Security and the Minister of Justice are now coming forward and saying we need security legislation, we need to detain people without taking them to court. I don't want to say what they should do.

POM     Do you feel like a part of SA, comfortable in SA?

AV     Oh yes. I feel, I think crime is a tragedy in our country and not only amongst the white people, there is more crime amongst the black people. When I was Minister of Law & Order black people were treading my threshold down, they were every day black people coming there pleading, help us, help us in the black cities, help us in the townships because they are killing us, they are murdering us. So I feel so sorry for the black people because they are, once again, bearing the brunt of crime in this country. Not only the whites. What you see in the papers is frequently what happened to white people and it's also a tragedy. This was, I think, why Mr PW Botha declared the first state of emergency and afterwards a state of emergency. Because of the state of emergency we were able not only to get hold of the people from the freedom movements, to calm that down, also crime. You had moving road blocks around Soweto and we had a curfew and I walked the streets of Soweto with my late wife on a few occasions, going there to see what was happening and the place was quiet, no crime, no crime because the criminals fled because of the actions of the security people, the security forces. They just disappeared. So for a week or over a weekend there was no crime in Soweto. But this was drastic action and I don't know whether Mr Tshwete has this in mind.

POM     He'll be calling you in as a consultant.

AV     You know what we did was, we would try and get the people carrying bombs and hand grenades, all these illegal firearms, we would cordon off a block in the city centre of Pretoria. we would stop traffic, everything stopped in their tracks in a block in the street and we would search everybody in that street, and we picked up a lot of landmines, people carrying hand grenades, illegal guns, firearms. We found them in the dustbins where they had thrown it away when this happened. But this is the sort of thing, you must take drastic steps if you really want to get hold of the situation, and it appears to me that the government is prepared to say we must do this now, let's bite the bullet and do this sort of thing to shock them to a standstill. Shock them to show to them that we are really serious about what we intend to do. But the problem is in the police they have lost so much know-how, experienced people. You don't create an experienced investigator overnight. It needs time, he needs to develop, he needs to develop and develop and then he can solve the problems and the police, and I saw in the army, the defence force, the same thing is happening there. This has also happened in Correctional Services that it is one of the departments that I really feel sorry for them because if you have the three departments, the judge is the furthest removed from the criminal. The policeman will have contact with the criminal and the criminal is on many occasions a very intelligent person, he can talk, he can manipulate, but the place where he can manipulate the best is in jail because this jailer is in daily contact with the criminal and this is why I feel so sorry for them. They are right at the cutting edge where a criminal can – he feels sorry for the criminal, he's got a family, sit there doing nothing, listening. That's why it's so easy for these people to fall for the stories of the criminals. I have been in all three of the departments, that's why I know. The judge is the furthest away, then the policeman, he will have contact with him for a few days, a few hours maybe, and then he's in the hands of Correction Services. You must be very strong to withstand the manipulation of the criminal mind in our prisons.

     It was nice talking to you.

POM     You too.

AV     Sorry for the fact that you have to struggle to get hold of me.

POM     Not at all.

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.