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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
27 Sep 2000: Meiring, Georg
POM General, we had just been talking about inaccuracies in the TRC and I had been pointing out to you inaccuracies I found in the findings on Boipatong. As I recall you submitted documentation to the TRC pointing out at least fifty cases of factual errors. Now since the last time we talked have you received any response from the TRC.
GM No, nothing whatsoever.
POM Have you done any follow-up with them saying - are you ever going to answer or respond to my questions?
GM Yes we have written a number of letters to the commissioners who are still busy at this moment in time.
POM Who do you write to as a matter of interest?
GM To the investigating commissioners at the moment. I'm not sure who they are personally now but they follow one another up, it's not the same people. They are only doing certain amendments to the TRC report. We have written to the Minister of Justice, we have written to the investigating officers of the TRC, we have written to the chairman of the TRC and to the Deputy Chairman and pointed these things out. We refer to our letters and the documents that we have submitted, that we have got nothing back.
POM Not even an acknowledgement that the letters have been received?
GM No, we got a signature for the letters, that they have received them. We had them signed for when they have received them. But apart from that nothing.
POM So these were hand delivered?
GM They were hand delivered. So at this moment in time we said that we will continue to try and rectify what we think are inaccuracies from the military point of view. We have pointed out to Minister Penuell Maduna, who we went to see a number of times, and to the Deputy President Zuma and also when he was Deputy to the Deputy President Mbeki at the time. We discussed this, 'we' being the ex-Chiefs of the Defence Force over the last few years of the SADF. We tried to put to them that there are too many inaccuracies about this and we are continuing to try to rectify this in various ways. We have sent these documents to every recipient of the TRC report, we have sent it to the Library of the Senate in the United States, Capitol Hill, we have sent it to - I'm not sure what the name is, but the Capital Hill Library, not the Senate Library.
POM The Congressional Library?
GM The Congressional Library, yes. We have sent to all the universities that were recipients and to everybody that we could lay hands on because we think that if any scholar in time when they read the report and they read with this the objections we have against specific aspects of the TRC, and we have tried to indicate where these inaccuracies are. And if I'm a Commander, if I still were a Commander, and somebody brings a report to me and there's one inaccuracy I start reading it very carefully. If there are two or three factual errors I give it back to him and say - you must redo it. Now if you find fifty errors in one part of the report and, as you said, you also found errors in a different aspect of the report, the report itself is seen to be not accurate enough to depict the true history of the Republic in the past. So we have decided to use our submissions to the TRC and our submissions on the inaccuracies so that there are a number of sets of submissions as well as the submissions concerning the inaccuracies. We have decided that we will do a history book, a complete history book of factual history, written by people who were there, about the SADF.
We brought a number of people together from 1963 who were in the military from 1963 until 1994 when the SADF ceased to exist and the SANDF started. We are now trying to put a documentary history book on record as to the true history of the SADF because we think we owe it to our children to show them what we perceive to be the correct facts from a firsthand point of view, in other words the bloke, to take a silly argument, that was written and was busy with the policy concerning the financial policy of the SADF he himself will be writing that chapter, or whatever the case may be. The man who was involved in the project study of the G6 gun, he himself will write that point from his perception, from his point of view. So we will try and get as factual as possible a set of historic facts that we can put together. We are busy doing that right now.
POM What about when it comes to covert activities or covert organisations within the SADF? I suppose I specifically refer to two, and I may be incorrect in one, but it was General Malan who brought up to the attention of
GM The BSB?
POM The CCB.
GM Yes CCB, in Afrikaans the BSB.
POM The Military Intelligence Directorate.
GM The MI Directorate, we're trying to write everything we can about that directorate because it's been hammered we think incorrectly about a number of things that were actually done that were not part of the Military Directorate's mandate or they never did it. Much of the CCB has been attributed to the MI Directorate and they had nothing to do with it, it was a complete different number of people that controlled that so there was no real link up between the two but in people's minds MI is equal to subversion or whatever and that would be then equal to the CCB, which wasn't the case. We are trying to write also the history of the CCB as far as we can.
POM Because a lot of records were destroyed.
GM Yes, as far as we can, and I'm talking about a firsthand account of it, what people still remember about it.
POM Do you not see in one sense there's a danger in firsthand accounts, that firsthand accounts are not just subjective but tend to be self-serving?
GM For sure, for sure. But what we do or try to do is that we get the people to write their piece. We have now formed an editorial body and many of them on the editorial body were also present in the time. They could easily find out whether there are blatant errors in this thing, they might remember it differently. We tried by means of this and what we can substantiate by evidence, hard evidence being the odd document that still exists, we try to corroborate it to see whether this is in fact as near as possible where one can get to the actual truth.
POM I want to take you back to an incident concerning the CCB and this is when FW de Klerk in his autobiography refers to an occasion in February 1990 when he was on vacation in Hermanus and he got a call from General Malan who said, "I've got to come and see you straight away, I've got something urgent to discuss with you." And President de Klerk said, "Well can't it wait, I'm enjoying a brief week of vacation?" He said, "No, I've got to see you now." And so he flew down and according to De Klerk General Malan said, "I have just discovered something, I've discovered that within the military there is an organisation called the CCB and that it may have been engaged in activities some of which may not have been legal. What do we do about it?" My question has always been twofold: number one, General Malan was a hands-on from when he was a General; two, he was Minister of Defence for quite a number of years; and three, he's saying that within the organisation for which he is responsible, accountable for, there are covert units that he did not know existed, whereas if he didn't know, (a) who did know, (b) should he have known and (c) how did accountability mechanisms in terms of funding for such covert units operate?
GM I think I can try and answer, I was not directly involved but I was involved in the closing down of the CCB when I was Chief of the Defence Force, we were rolling it up in terms of it's already being dead, made so by the government, but there were the legal and financial and auditing lines, the books had to be closed. Certain people had to get certain remuneration because they were on a contract and the contract was terminated and according to the contract they were still entitled to certain remuneration. Some people bought a business as a covert action and they were entitled to certain funding or whatever and they didn't even know they were part of the military establishment. We had to close the books and we had to audit as far as possible. I was involved as an overseer in that process.
POM They didn't even know who - ?
GM Some people who were having a business, who were put into business by money coming from the military as a front, they wouldn't know where the money came from, that it came from the military. They thought it came from some other source and they were only used as a front to have a business at a certain place to enable a front to be established. They didn't know that they were part of the military establishment. So this was the whole thing, we had to play it very easily not to affront everybody, to get everybody his due who had to do and to audit the books and close them. So I was part of that set up, also part of the set-up that once a set of files were audited by the Auditor General he then gave us permission for those files to be destroyed according to a governmental instruction that entitled these files and operation files to be destroyed to safeguard certain people's future existence, if I can call it that. This was part of the process I oversaw when I became Chief of the SADF so from that point of view I will try and answer some of the questions.
The CCB consisted of a number of, let us call it for lack of a better word, cells. If I am not mistaken they didn't call themselves cells but something else, but Cell No. 10 was the one that actually did things internally in the country that were the so-called unlawful actions. For the rest the CCB did a very good job. They infiltrated into certain organisations, they infiltrated into certain countries, they followed the trail of funding of, at that time, unlawful organisations like the ANC, like the PAC. They couldn't do it any other way except by being completely divulged out of the military and working as civilian people.
POM Who ordered the setting up of it?
GM That was ordered, that was well known that it was ordered by the minister and agreed to by the minister and known by -
POM General Malan?
GM Yes, and known by the Auditor General because he audited the books. He had a special auditor for auditing the books.
POM And known by PW Botha?
GM Yes I think it happened just after PW Botha left as minister and became Prime Minister, perhaps even later. But he as President would have known about the existence of this thing. It wasn't called the CCB then, it was called by another name, I'm not sure what it was. It became known as CCB later. Then in this they also got some ex-policemen. There were a number of ex-policemen that they entered into this internal cell, it was called Cell 10 or whatever the case may be, but that did jobs where previously they had either not enough knowledge or not enough means to enable them to conduct operations within the country. The CCB did most of its work outside of the country. That cell was the people who put the foetus in front of Tutu's house, who did the unlawful things that became known, all of them became known. Those are things people are asking amnesty for, etc. But that was a small portion of the CCB and it was those people who Malan didn't know about because they were authorised by the then Commander of the Special Forces Brigade who was then a Major General. He had a rather wide mandate to allow him to conduct a business as an overseer of the CCB.
POM Who was that?
GM That was the name will come just now. I tend to forget names because I didn't worry about them. But the manager of the CCB created this, it was okayed by the Commander of the Special Forces formation and he didn't tell anybody about that. This is how it actually happened. The funding was still conducted in the same laid-down manner and procedure as described by the Auditor General but the A-G had to have a document which was agreed to by, in a different hierarchy of command, different levels of command, and that is how Malan got to know about this because all of a sudden he was confronted because it was the start or the end of that particular year and things had to be audited and his signature was nowhere on that. So at that point in time he started knowing about it and that is when he started taking steps. That is my answer. It's not a complete answer because I was not directly involved but that is how I got it.
POM In terms of the military budget itself, say when it went before parliament for approval, would there be an amount set aside that simply said this amount is for activities which are not going to be divulged to parliament?
GM Yes there was always such a fund inside the military.
POM Was it specified in the budget as for covert activities?
GM It is for covert activities or other activities not being specified but inside the budget each project had a name, a function, the aims of that particular year, the funding per aim, and that had to be countersigned by the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Finance.
POM Was the Minister of Finance - for example Barend du Plessis would have been aware of the project?
GM Aware of the CCB in its wider sense and the projects in a wider sense. But as I tried to point out, that this was a project within a project, if we can call it that. It was a cell that started to operate inside the country to do certain things which were not mandated by the minister at the time. It followed the trend of thought but there was no order given about this. In other words if the Commander thought himself to be in line with what government thinks he had authorised that and hoped that the minister would OK it, but he didn't.
I'm sorry, it's not a very satisfactory answer but that's the best I can give you from my knowledge at the time and since when I look back into this thing. So what we always said is that it was really the apple, the one bad apple that infected the entire barrel because the whole CCB was now put under the same, you look at it through the same looking glass at this and in fact you only had to look at this specific one.
POM You also said something interesting the last time, we had been talking about the infiltration of the ANC and other banned organisations and you commented that the security police weren't very good at infiltration, what they were good at was beating confessions out of people.
GM That was not always the case but most of the time yes.
POM It was a rather terse remark. Who did the infiltration and how effective was it?
GM What infiltration?
POM Infiltration of the ANC.
GM Look, at times the police did it. You will remember that there was a very notorious already known police agent who also was on amnesty, that is Craig Williamson. He was one of the most well known. Some of the police were good at this and they infiltrated over a long period of time. Some of the CCB chaps also infiltrated into certain of these organisations. So it was between a small portion of security police and the CCB, that's how they started to work together. The CCB tried to do the infiltration outside the country, the police tried to do it inside the country but the overlapping area became the tenth cell basically. So this is where these things overlapped and that is why between the operators they started to work together some time even before the Commander knew about it and then the Commander authorised it because it had been going on for some time already, money had to be spent. Then when he got to the minister, the minister mandated this. That is how it became apparent that the two organisations were responsible for that and overseas most of the time was the CCB that did the infiltration, internally it was the police. But now you must remember that the government agents at the time had to draw back. They had to create either a very good understanding of the organisation they wanted to infiltrate or they had to undergo a race change which is not possible because most people inside of the country were black, so it was difficult to find the correct person of the correct race to infiltrate the organisation inside the country. It was easier to do it outside the country because many of the people outside were not necessarily black. There were black and white and Indians outside the country so it was easier in a place like London or a place like Algiers or a place like Moscow for somebody of the white race to infiltrate in an organisation, inside, as when you are white you always were looked at with suspicion and you had to build up a very long understanding before you were allowed inside the country. So that was why the police were not so successful at infiltrating inside the country. But that was why we were more successful in infiltrating outside the country and where these overlap it was things that we did inside the country and that was where the CCB came in.
POM Now how did the two interact with National Intelligence, Niel Barnard's operation? Was he running his own independent thing?
GM He was running his own independent thing. They exchanged information and there were also, and that I'm not really privy about, there was also information coming from them and it was obvious that they had people infiltrating somewhere at certain levels or that they had informers at certain levels because certain of the information couldn't be got at if it were not coming from an inside source.
POM Inside sources?
GM In the organisations that they infiltrated into or that were affected or that was the target. So it was apparent that they got information from certain sources inside but we were not privy to what they did, as I think we didn't tell them how we went about it. But the information was always exchanged at a specific level where the three intelligence organisations, the police, the military and National Intelligence sat together to talk about the results of their efforts but they never talked about how they did it.
POM How did, I won't use the word 'myth', but the widespread belief that the intelligence services of SA had infiltrated the ANC up to the highest levels and had informants at the highest levels?
GM Well they bought a lot of them, this was true.
POM Who bought? The Intelligence Services bought?
GM The Intelligence Services bought a lot of information out of these people, basically outside the country and inside too. Later on when the people from outside came into the country it was becoming easier to get information because there was not such a tight organisation inside the country, it was fluid.
POM This is after 19 - ?
GM After 1990 when they were unbanned. That was why it was easier to get into Vula because the situation was fluid. People came and went and whatever the case may be, so it was at that point in time easier to infiltrate than it was previously.
POM Would you say that the reputation of the intelligence agencies here for infiltration and for virtually knowing what the ANC were planning and going to do before they themselves had planned and done it, is an overstatement of the case?
GM I'm not saying it is an overstatement, it might be in certain instances an overstepping because people would tend to cover the entire operation by things that happened in specific areas. So it is easy to say we infiltrate everybody. That the ANC and the PAC were infiltrated to the degree that people sat in their conferences was true to the degree that we got, either from sources inside those organisations or from people who were planted, enough information to make a good deduction is true. I in my personal job working with Special Forces was to get people inside the camps, the training camps, to see how well they trained and photograph people, and we did that. But the point of view is that it is not the complete truth of everything that happened but at the major conferences in the ANC and the major planning aspects of the ANC and PAC we had most of the information coming out of that. Sometimes not as quickly as we would have liked it but it did come.
POM Are there people in high places in government today, whether in the civil service or parastatals or cabinet who at one time or another were also paid informants or whatever?
GM It is difficult to answer that question to you because I cannot tell you exactly that it is true. I never worked with the informants myself and it is policy never to ask whom your informant is because you endanger not only the life of the informant but also of his handler. So the handlers were very jealous about their informers and they did not normally tell you exactly whom the informant was, but if you have two or three sources saying the same thing, corroborating one another and independent of one another, then you start believing what is said is true because it's a process. Military Intelligence is an entire process, it's not just the odd information coming in and you believe what you hear. Enough was already being said in public by policemen, by members of the PAC, by members other than were at the time in the ANC that left, by MI, that I believe there were people or there are people still in high places that were on the pay roll. So that's the nearest that I can come to tell you yes or no. Firsthand evidence I don't have.
POM It's just one more complication in a complicated situation.
POM A moment ago you mentioned Vula and I asked you in February whether you had been aware of Vula.
POM Had you been aware of Vula since its inception?
GM I'm not sure when we got to know about this and I can't tell you whether it was from the inception or not but it was fairly early on.
POM Did you know that Mac Maharaj had been secreted back into the country?
GM Yes we knew Mac was here, we knew about him.
POM So you know that he was here from - ?
GM But we didn't know, I can't tell you whether we knew when he came here but it became known that he was inside SA, yes.
POM OK. This would have been before Mandela was released?
GM I cannot remember the exact date. I knew of this when I became Chief of the Army. I became Chief of the Army just after the speech of FW de Klerk, I became Chief of the Army in 1990 in April, his speech was in February. So I was Deputy Chief of the Army but I didn't work with a total spectrum, the Chief of the Army still did that. When I took over from him I just continued and got the facts slowly because I didn't come from outside to take over the whole the whole thing so it was a going concern that I was taking over. Then I became aware of a number of intelligence aspects, I was briefed more thoroughly on intelligence as they were before and in that time I became aware of Vula. How good or bad my memory is I'm not sure.
POM This would have been before the seizure of documents?
GM Yes, yes. We were then working out plans how to get to grips with it because we were not allowed to use the same methods as before since the unbanning of the organisations, they were not unlawful any more so it was much more difficult to act, to pre-empt any aspect. So, yes, we started to know about this thing and then documents were obtained which confirmed what we believed to be true. I'm not sure who got the documents for us, I can't remember. I know I've seen some of the documents.
POM Had you briefed De Klerk?
GM I briefed through the Defence Force. I was then Chief of the Army remember. I presumed he briefed him because
POM Sorry, you assumed who briefed him?
GM That the Chief of the Defence Force, Kat Liebenberg, at the time briefed the Security Council at least because he and the Chief of Police and the Chief of National Intelligence were the three and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Niel Barnard, they were the four people that were permanent members -
POM Of the State Security
GM Of the Security Board but they were not political members, they were officials but they were permanently on that thing. When I got to be Chief of the Defence Force I also sat in on that. So I know that they briefed the Security Council and De Klerk chaired it so I'm sure he was also briefed.
POM De Klerk set about dismantling the National (we talked about this) the National Management Security System. He kept the State Security Council?
GM He kept the SSC in a different configuration.
POM But it was still ?
GM The SSC existed until the time that Mandela became President. I attended the last meeting I think two weeks before the inauguration. I know we discussed the aspects concerning the inauguration, the safety of the entire thing, and I had to make a presentation of what the military were going to do. So that was the last meeting of the SSC.
POM In the lead up to the settlement in November 1993, the final days, one of the outstanding issues, in fact the last issue to be settled and it was only settled in a postamble to the interim constitution, was the question of amnesty. Now to what degree was that an item of concern to the security forces?
GM It was of top concern, it was the item that we really wanted to have been part of the entire system. You see there was a system within the previous government of granting amnesty. If someone said that I did the following, his name was then published in the Government Gazette saying that he had got amnesty. I wasn't very interested because it didn't concern me but that was more or less the format. You can look it up in the Bill at the time, the Act. So there was a way. Why I know about this is that we wanted to get Joe Verster who was then the chairman of the CCB to acknowledge that he did certain unlawful things so that he could get amnesty. He wanted to be resettled outside the country and in order to do that government said yes they can do it but then he must enter into the process of asking for amnesty so that he must be on paper saying that - I did the following things incorrectly, and then they would grant him amnesty and then he would be resettled somewhere else.
Now this was the process in being, I'm now very brief in that. When they started talking with the ANC you will know that round about February/April 1993 there was a deadlock at CODESA. I'm not sure exactly what happened but there was a complete deadlock.
POM It was April 1992.
GM 1993. There was a second deadlock. In that time between March, April. I know because it was
POM In the Multi-Party talks.
GM Yes. I know because why I say this is that we then started, we the military, started talking for the first time to the MK people. My predecessor, Kat Liebenberg, tried to resolve the dead point in the talks at CODESA because there were certain points one was amnesty, the other one was certain aspects around the military that were hampering talks. And we went and we first started talking to the MK in April 1993 in Admiralty House in Simonstown. That was the first meeting and it was General Liebenberg, who was then Chief of the Defence Force, myself who was Chief of the Army, James Kriel was Chief of the Air Force and Joffel van der Westhuizen was Chief of Military Intelligence. The four of us on one side and with Joe Modise and Ronnie Kasrils and Phosa, he was one of the legal representatives of the ANC at the time, and two or three others, I'm not sure exactly who they were. We started then discussing, getting an understanding and that eased the way of the talks to continue. But at that time we were in agreement, both sides, the MK and the SADF at the time, that we should ask our peers, our political peers, to put amnesty very high on the list because they were just about as concerned about amnesty or the lack thereof as we were because we didn't want this thing to continue into Nuremberg trials or in a continuous chase after shadows and things like that.
So, yes, from the government's point of view at the time Kobie Coetsee handled this as part of his portfolio because he was Minister of Justice as well as Minister of Defence, and his Justice Portfolio was entrusted with the amnesty aspect. Now if I remember correctly, and I'm talking under correction, not completely correct in my mind, but how I perceive it, is that we wanted to use the amnesty as a sort of lever. Yes we will grant amnesty but then you have to do certain things. I'm not quite sure what this deal was but he tried to use this as a sort of lever.
POM A bargaining tool.
GM A bargaining tool yes. On the other side Roelf Meyer who was the Chief Negotiator from the government's point of view, he and Kobie incidentally did not get along very well, he was trying to ease the talks that the talks could flow so that you could continue with CODESA and the talks that had to flow. Between the two of them they didn't see eye to eye as to the implementation and the putting on the table of what the government wanted as far as amnesty was concerned. Then the window of opportunity closed. The ANC thought from their point of view that because these people didn't want to put that thing on the table we will do our own thing as far as amnesty is concerned. And I think it was still the Chief Negotiator, Cyril Ramaphosa, who said, "We are now dropping this thing, we're not talking about this issue." Now this was bad I think because the ANC from their side wanted amnesty, the government at the time from their side wanted amnesty but because of, my perception, that there was unhealthy competition between two ministers as to who would get the pat on the shoulder, get the benefit of this thing to him, nothing actually happened. This was very bad but we wanted to have the amnesty thing, I think the ANC wanted to have it, or MK rather, wanted the amnesty thing very badly but that never happened.
POM Now did the balance, one theory or one thing that has been said to me by a number of people is that after the unbanning of the ANC when indemnities were being granted for ANC members to enter the country, at that time the ANC were very keen on amnesty and I am told by the principals who were there that at the Pretoria Minute in fact that a sub-delegation went aside and drew up a general amnesty and that when Kobie Coetsee saw it he tore it up and said, "No way."
GM It is possible that he did that but he was the overseer, being Minister of Justice, he was the overseer from the government side of the amnesty aspect. He also had a paper on amnesty and I think it was because of this sort of thing that they wanted to use it as a bargaining tool that perhaps he tore that particular one up.
POM Going back to that he wanted to use it as a bargaining tool and then what happened with the passage of time the balance of power shifted. You had a government that was in one day and then suddenly moving to a situation of where the people you're bargaining with are going to be the government in six months. Suddenly the ball moves into their court and they are saying, Ah-ha! Guess what?
GM The trouble is - I don't think we are saying the wrong thing, we're saying basically
POM What I'm getting at is if at the end, and it was the final item that was on the agenda, an agreement had not been reached on amnesty and that in the postamble where it was Fanie van der Merwe and Mac Maharaj who drew up the postamble which said, 'There shall be amnesty', not there will be or there might be, it said, 'There shall be', unless the security forces had an assurance at that time that there would be amnesty, that it was going to be in the constitution and it would be in the law, would they have sent the government signals that the agreement was not acceptable to them?
GM No. I think they would feel bad about it but they would never have done that. Look, there were lots of talks about what the security forces, specifically the military, would do at the time. Now I can speak from firsthand knowledge as far as that is concerned. We in the military never thought of opposing the procedural system. We were concerned about the effects should this not go in a peaceful way because then we would have had to look after the problems of security inside the country which we didn't want to do. That is why we in the military at the time spent a lot of time talking to political leaders, talking to the military in the part-time forces, to get sense into everybody's head that, yes, it is possibly very easy to take over a government, take over a country, but it's like a dog catching a bus, once you've got that what do you do with it? So the whole world would be against SA should anything like this happen. So there was a lot of talk too from the right, yes they have so many people inside the military that they will easily overthrow the government and take their own strong route if they're not satisfied with the deals that the government took. There was talk, I can tell you that. I spoke to all the leaders from the right to the far left and I spoke to Buthelezi, I spoke to Constand Viljoen, I spoke to Hartzenberg, De Klerk didn't want to speak to me but I spoke to everybody else in this process.
POM Sorry, who didn't want to talk to you?
GM De Klerk. He was the President so why should he speak to me? He didn't want to speak to me. But for the rest I spoke to everybody concerned and I tried to show to them that it is fatal to oppose the process, that we should make the process easy, make the transformation peaceful and that would be the best way of pursuing this. So what we in fact did was to have plans available should this thing go anyway wrong, should from the left or the right the train go off the rails, as we used to call it at that time, what should we do, how should we pre-empt or how should we react and intervene to make the country peaceful again to enable the process to continue. That was what we actually did so in spite of the fact that they perhaps didn't feel at ease with the entire negotiating process they were committed to such a degree that the total process of transition went peacefully.
POM Now was this commitment born in a sense out of both logic and self-interest?
GM I think so.
POM I'll explain what I mean by that. Even let's say hypothetically a group of senior officers had sat around and said - we don't like what's happening, maybe we should consider taking over the government. Someone would say - well what happens then? You've taken over the government and you've established martial law, you've established a state of emergency, tanks on the streets, then what? The entire world is up against you, you've international isolation, you have mobs of people on the street, mass demonstrations on a scale you never imagined before. Do you lock everybody up? What do you do with Mandela? Do you put him back in prison? What do you do? How do you govern? You've taken over a government but without the capacity to govern and who will accept your governability anyway? Nobody will, therefore it simply makes no sense to do so, out of logic. We could do it but the end result will achieve nothing so it's not in our interests and then we would ultimately be overthrown anyway and then we'd all stand trial for treason or for overthrowing the government, so it's not simply in our self-interest no matter how one looks at it when one weighs the options to do so. What I'm saying is, were there, I won't say discussions, but were there talks along these lines, floating, that we could do it but, even if it's just a hypothetical conversation almost at a cocktail party, it wouldn't make much sense because ultimately we would end up as the losers.
GM I don't think the same scenario that you depicted happened ever but the fact is that we realised that it is illogical to do it and that it is logical to continue because what we did say, well I said to a number of people because I went around the country and I spoke openly to everybody, I'm talking about the military now, I went to all the Commands, nine Commands, and we got all the Commanders at various levels there from the lowest Commander to the highest Commander in that area, I'm talking specifically about the part-time forces because they didn't have all the information constantly and they could think various thoughts. So I always said to them, I said, "What sort of country would you like to have your children grow up in, in KwaZulu?" Well it wasn't KwaZulu at the time but one of those places, I said, "Or in a peaceful country where we make it as peaceful as we can at this moment in time?" So, yes, it was considered logical not to do it. It was considered also in the interest of the future not to do it, the future of the country. When I spoke about military people they normally tend to feel more for the country than the next bloke so they have a very high patriotism inside them and they said if this should happen the country will be in ruins so we can't even consider to do this, we must enable the approaches to be allowed to continue peacefully.
POM I want to talk for a minute about conscription. Minister Lekota has come under fire in the figurative sense for raising the question of there being or talking about conscription in the future. Some people say, oh we're back to the old days and it's just like the old days. What are your thoughts on it? Would it be a good thing?
GM If you had to reintroduce it?
GM I think so because if you want to have a military that is affordable and that is big enough to enable it to do the job when it's necessary and small enough to be able not to break the country economically, the only way of doing it is to have a conscript army, a conscript military. People like Russia even today have got three year conscription. The Israelis have got three years. We had two years, we never had three. Two years is the ideal in fact. You need to have people that you train regularly to fill your part-time military on a contractual basis that once having finished conscription they are liable for service for another eight years and you can build up your divisions and your brigades out of part-time people and if you need them you call them up. You train them once a year or once every two years to keep them rather sharp and keep the equipment available but you don't need to have the money to pay them on a full time basis. So it's like playing a concertina, with some tunes you would like play the concertina very near to one another, if you pull it out it's very big, it's the same concertina. This is the basis of expanding and encroaching again on yourself. So a conscript army I think is an expensive army in the sense that you must continue to do training at a constant level but it is cheap because you need not pay, if you want a military of 100,000 people, you need only to pay 20,000 a year and that is basically your economic point of view and you can spread the load. Then if you do not have a threat at the time the people only need to be trained at the lower level and you have enough time to try and retrain them if your administration is good.
POM How about from the point of view that one of the major problems the country is appearing to face is (a) unemployment, (b) a youth problem that spawns all kinds of crime; would there be a social benefit of mandating that everybody is subject to the disciplines of army training for two years during which they are taught a skill as a carpenter, or as a glassblower or whatever, so that when they leave they come out more disciplined?
GM It's not the right reason of introducing conscription, it's a secondary reason for introducing conscription. It is a side effect of having conscription, you have a much more disciplined citizenry than you have before. You have people that tend to think and grow older before they leave school to become either a student or a worker. People tend to think about them to have some introspective about their own lives, to think about the future and to enable them to be a more mature worker or more mature student. We have seen this in the past where the whites were concerned. We have a much better student once they have finished National Service than if they go into it right away. You have a much more mature worker because the bloke knows how to work, he's got certain skills. You learn at least to drive a vehicle. He can enter citizen life with a Code 9 licence, a heavy vehicle licence, which he wouldn't have got in any case if he were not trained the proper way of doing it. It wouldn't have come across his way to do it if he were not in the military. So the spin-offs of conscription are beneficial to a country as a whole, yes, but I wouldn't introduce conscription only for the sake thereof. I think you must decide how big your military must be and how long your term of conscription, continuous conscription should be, and how long after that you should still be liable for service. In other words it must be a need-driven conscription, a military need-driven conscription. You get civilian benefits out of it but not the other way round. That's how I would see this, that's the more clinical way of looking at it. But of course you are right, there are quite a lot of benefits that the country can reap out of that.
POM In your day the military had a clear-cut definable or defined and understandable mission. There were enemies out there and your mission was to protect the country against those enemies. (Break in recording.)
Continuation of interview with General Meiring. I had asked him whether the SANDF today had a clear understanding of its mission as a defence force, both within SA or for SA and in Africa.
GM To answer your question, I'm not sure exactly how the military looks at it at the present moment in time but we always say that a strong military necessitate, no, let me put it another way, a strong military will ensure everlasting peace because if you don't have the military everybody is trying to eye you especially if you're a prosperous country and that sort of thing. But our military, I think, is here to help to stabilise southern Africa in conjunction with the other SADEC countries' militaries and there is enough evidence of destabilisation and unstabilised conditions in southern African to necessitate having a military strong enough to enable them to enforce certain aspects. To give you an example, when Kabila overthrew the previous government nobody could say anything because they didn't have the ways and means of entering into the country and saying you mustn't do that. They couldn't slap wrists with good effect. You can't do anything. The war in Angola can't come to an end because the people of southern African don't have a strong enough military to make their words deeds or to enforce a threat and you must have a military strong enough to enable you to do a thing like that in your area if you're the leader in your area. So you don't need to have an enemy to enable you to have a constant threat. You must have a purpose and the purpose is to stabilise the area against all comers and that is a sort of different way of looking at it but it doesn't change your way of training, doesn't change the size of your military. What it does is that once you have a military you just readjust and refocus on that specific military but you have the machine. If you have a motor car you don't say I want to go to Cape Town, I want to drive around in it, but if I want to go to Cape Town and I do have a motor car and I can go there then you refurbish it.
POM How would you rate SA's intervention into Lesotho?
GM I think it was unfortunate, my own personal opinion. I don't know all the facts so I can't speak exactly on that. I have no firsthand knowledge of it. I think that what went wrong, if I were still Chief of the Defence Force at the time when we were required to go into Lesotho, I would either have advised against it strongly or if it was supposed to happen I would then have written a political mandate for the minister and the government to sign to enable me to do whatever I should do in Lesotho. They didn't have a political mandate when they went into Lesotho, not a clear cut one so that everybody knows exactly what to do and how to do it and that, I think, is not the military so much that went skew in the beginning, they went in to stabilise but if you are asked the question, to do what, to do what with and who pays? Those questions were never answered, not in the beginning, later on yes perhaps. But if you don't have the experience to know what you need if you are going to invade another country then you will do it and you will have problems. I think that is what happened. There was no clear cut political mandate for the military to have a clear cut military mandate because once they were allowed to fire back, they didn't know. They could have started fighting and then found out that they were completely illegal. It's little things but it gives you a few seconds hesitation and that's all you need to lose a fight. So one must be very clear in your mind if you go across and do something what you want to do.
POM We had talked before about, and these are two related questions about racism in the SANDF or even the SADF, and we talked about the Tembe incident. Since then there have been a couple more very serious incidents and a report released saying that racism is rampant in the security forces. You had queried that saying that racism was not a problem in your day in the security forces. Why should it be a problem today and not in your day?
GM I can tell you one of the major reasons is that you have lack of discipline. Now, again, one must understand the whole transformation process. When we entered into negotiations with the MK it was decided that the name list of your soldiers belonging to all the organisations as it was on 24th April 1994 would be the people that the new SANDF would consist of. Now these name lists were handed in from the different organisations to a central point and those were now the people that the new SANDF would consist of.
POM You didn't know whether they had training, you didn't know anything?
GM No we knew nothing. So what then happened is that we took the list, we got the people in, a few thousand at a time. We vetted them with the assistance of the British that were here. We placed them and we decided what training they still needed for that placement. So they were ranked, they were placed and it was decided what training still was supposed to be given. Nobody will ever agree to that from the ANC point of view but they boosted their lists because when we handed in our list from the SADF point of view there were about 315,000 names on it. It was part time as well as full time forces that were active and could be called up to form part of the military. The full time component was about 100,000 people from the SADF. The ANC handed in a list of 35,000 people. We know that they didn't even have 15,000 military people, that were military trained outside the country. They had less than that, we knew that. But they boosted this list by people that were active inside the country, not as soldiers but as activists, throwers of stones, burners of houses, that sort of thing, were considered to be part of the MK cadre, where they carried a message from one place to another they were considered being actively involved in the MK but they were never trained. A large gross of these people were never trained, military trained. Some of them didn't even have any school training, some had Grade 1, Grade 2 school training. They couldn't read or write, couldn't speak English, Afrikaans or couldn't write in their own language either. We had almost 20,000 of these people that were considered untrainable, old, sick, backward as far as academic training, etc., and we tried to get them out in a peaceful way. A number of them left but then the government stopped us because, my perception, they thought that they could lose an election if they let these people on the streets and the threat of unlawfulness because these soldiers were now left on the street could add to the criminality of the country. This was then thought and was said to be so.
In this process many people got into the military in ranking positions that were never meant to be in a military organisation. Now the people I've seen in the time I've been Chief of the SANDF that came from MK and from APLA, I would say roughly, at a guess, and that is talking to all my Commanders at ground-root level that worked with these people, about 40% of them were good material and military disciplined type soldiers that you could go a long way with, that I will be proud to be a Commander of. But about 60% of them were not worth the name of soldier. Now it's these people that were sent on courses, that were sent on instruction courses or whatever, that could not get up to standard and as soon as they see that they cannot come up to scratch they would say because you are a white racist that's why I cannot become a Corporal or a Sergeant or whatever, I can't pass this course. And we had some of them doing it three or four times, it's just not possible for them to pass it. So racism was used as an excuse of ill-performance and in the process we were still working with the Military Act, with the military discipline code emanating from 1947 that did not take into consideration the transformation, that did not take into consideration the new thoughts and new trends of people working. So the black man as such works for a month, he gets his pay, he would like to go home and settle things and if he couldn't get leave he will leave. Now technically he is now AWOL, absent without leave, and you are now trying him there and stopping pay because that's what the MDC says, you're away from leave, you are not being paid for that period of time and you stop pay and then you are considered to be a criminal of sorts. Now this wasn't brought home very clearly to specifically the number of people who were not really soldiers. They never understood this. The real soldiers, the 40%, we never had problems with. It's the people that were, as far as I'm concerned, not really military people who would give you the problems that we are finding now and most of the time because one of the curses of Africa, as I explained to you earlier, is never 'my' fault. You might get the culprit and the culprit is racism at this point in time and because you are white I'm not allowed to continue on my training career. It's immaterial whether I get 9% on this course or not, it's not my fault, it's yours. That is a racism problem. Now this I think is the problem that we are facing at the moment in our military.
POM Do you think that applies to many other sectors of society as well, that it's not confined to the military?
GM Not just confined to the military but it's more apparent in the military because you are conducting a course and they do a spot of work, you conduct another course. You are measured more regularly and you've got to come up to expectations more regularly against progress than you do in any other portion of life. So it is much more apparent in the military, that's what I think.
POM Just to conclude, I know you want to get back to your mother. Just three or four things to touch on. One is the army, the SADF and apartheid. Abroad you were seen as the upholders, defenders of the apartheid government, the people who fought wars to ensure that the system survived. Leaving aside the question of communism and the communist total onslaught which we've discussed at length, did people, again senior people, in the army ever say there's something wrong here, we're fighting for our country, and 'our' would have a special connotation of white country, white government, white civil servants, white structures, white institutions. Most of the rest of the people in SA, or the disenfranchised, were subject to oppressive laws like pass laws and influx control laws, black and white can't even sit on the same bench, there are separate toilets, it's all crazy, it's wrong, we are in fact fighting as an army on behalf of the government but it's not a just government. Were questions like that ever asked?
GM It is difficult at the moment for me, looking back, to say yes or no on this matter because I can give you a few examples. I think I was a Colonel or a Brigadier when I went, no I was a Colonel, when I went at that point in time with a Major General who visited the odd location on the border at the time, but it was still very low level but he had to on behalf of the Minister or Chief of the Defence Force or whoever conduct them, say Merry Christmas to you people in the bundu, would conduct a little speech. I remember it was in the seventies and he said at the time that
POM The border would be with ?
GM With Angola and Zambia at the time, the Caprivi and the eastern part of Namibia. He would say to the people that the job of the military is to buy enough time for the politicians to do the right thing. This was basically his message at the time. Now I remember this because the other day I read it again in one of my diaries which I kept a long time, the odd note here and there, and I'm trying incidentally to put my memoirs on paper and doing that, that's why all these papers are lying around here.
POM Well I hope I'm finished before you are!
GM I came across that little note again and later on in life we never considered ourselves in the military as being part of an apartheid system. We were in the military. And for a long time, a long time since I could remember along these lines, we had a military defence force, specifically the army, that consisted of a third white, a third brown and a third black. That's our number of soldiers in the defence force.
POM But the foot soldiers would be brown and black and the officers white?
GM Not necessarily. We started rather late in their careers by getting people into the military and you had to go through a specific training cycle to become an officer. We had in the beginning, yes you were right, in the very beginning there were only foot soldiers, later on Corporals, later on Sergeants, later on Sergeant Majors even, and then we got the right type of people starting to come into the military and we made the right selections to get people trained as officers. So in the beginning the people that came voluntarily into the organisation didn't have the academic background to become an officer first of all and we trained them. Some of them came in at Standard Six, some at Standard Eight at the time and we trained them, we gave them the opportunity to be trained to get their matriculation. So it was a process of getting people to become officers, but they were becoming officers. We had brown officers long before we had black officers. We had brown officers, then we had Indian officers and then we had black officers in the process of time. So, yes, the larger number of people of colour were not in high ranking places, correct, but there was nothing stopping them, the process was there, it was open all the time and nobody asked whether this particular gentleman was white, black or brown. If he was good enough for the job he was given the job. It started slowly but it was going through.
So we didn't think of ourselves as being part of an apartheid government and I can't remember myself thinking in terms of politics all the time. We thought military most of the time and there was no connotation in serving the government. Yes, we served the government of the day but we were not servants of the government, if I put myself across, we served the country. We always thought we served the country and in the process we serve the government of the day. That was why in the transition getting a new government when Mandela came and he asked me whether I would continue to be Chief of the Defence Force in the future, I said yes, by all means I would because I'm not serving you, I'm serving the country. This is the way that we looked at it. So this would be my answer, part of the answer which I could give you.
The other portion of the answer, it is now easy for any one of us to say it was wrong at the time when things happened but you must remember that SA as such at the time came through a history of 300 years by way of which this was way of life and it wasn't questioned so much as it would have been if you came from a different country and for the first time saw what is happening. Even Joe Slovo said in his unfinished memoirs, I think it was, he said that everybody gives the Nationalist government the honour of saying that they invented apartheid, they only gave it a name. He said it was the British really who invented it. Those were Joe Slovo's words and he's a prime communist. So what I'm saying is it was the way of life, at that moment in time it was a way of life for the people concerned which happened long before they existed, before their birth, they grew up in it so you never thought the government was unjust, you worked with a system that existed for 300 years. So it is not easy to answer that question by black or white, yea or nay. It's not such an easy question. But we never thought in politics. We thought that the politicians must get their house in order, we will give them time to do it in and this is how it happened.
POM Two final questions. One is, of all the soldiers, armies, whatever, that you have fought against, who are the best and who are the worst?
GM The worst I could say is the ANC because we really never fought against them. We met them as terrorists, as runners and throwers of bombs and runners away. The best people I fought against indirectly were the East Germans, but they were not really high on the list, there were not many available.
POM This would have been in Angola?
GM They were part of the system, the intelligence system and they were good at that. So you didn't fight directly with the gun against them but you fought against what they enacted around the entire thing as far as the military. They were good at the military intelligence. The Cubans were not so good. The Angolans were not bad. The Angolans were on the whole good soldiers and if they were backed by Russians, which they were at certain times, they fought very well. SWAPO itself, we trained them, if I say that because you fight against them in a certain way and they learn new tricks and you had to do new tricks to get them. So we trained them over time to become better. They think they're much better than the ANC ever was. They are my friends now, I speak to them. They have got no thought for the ANC, they said, "We're SWAPO, we fought well."
But in hard down battles the Angolans, I think, were quite good, some of them were quite good, those backed up by Russian and Cuban forces, but the Cubans as a force were trained very much like the communist forces were. They were given very good training for three years, over and over and over again, but if you go out of what they were trained against they were useless. It's like the Russian soldiers as well. They had a certain doctrine in which they moved, if a column is moving you have the foot soldiers in a hollow square in the front, you have armoured cars behind them, then you have the tanks and if they go forward and they struck the distance and the infantry could solve it, fine, they go through. If they can't, they withdraw, the armoured cars come forward. If they can solve it, fine, if they can't they withdraw and then the tanks come forward normally and they cut a bridge and they continue. But if you come from the side you disorientate them completely because they were not trained from a flanking attack, they were trained for a frontal attack. So perhaps a stupid example but it's one of the examples that I found. They were trained to bomb in a certain way, the Cuban pilots. They were trained to fight a plane battle in a certain way. If you outthink them at that point, at the ground-root level you always win because they've got a doctrine on which they fight, they're not allowed thought.
So we didn't have time or lots of people so we couldn't train over and over again, we would give them initiative and the initiative did for us what training did for a lot of other people. We trained well but then we gave a bloke a lot of initiative and that we found was a good thing. The initiative most of the time came from our young soldiers, our conscript Lieutenants. One of the best units under my command was 101 Battalion. 101 Battalion was the Ovambo battalion. They came out of the Ovambo area in Namibia. They had three black officers, the rest were white. They had a number of Sergeant Majors, WO2s, one WO1 that was black, but those young soldiers, the young officers coming from SA doing national service attached to this unit they would go into a contract, as we called it, small skirmish, scared shitwise because they've never been shot at. These older soldiers who they were going to lead are so calm it's just not true because they had had 32 or 33 contacts or skirmishes behind their backs. But very soon they from these young officers, they would calm them and then these young blokes took the initiative because they others would tend to do a thing the same way as they did and then they would outthink the bloke on the other side. As soon as these people see that this bloke has now got the initiative they will follow him into hell. But a lot of the initiative came from these young officers that we sent through from
POM My very last question and it goes back to something that's fundamental in trying to get things clear and again it refers to the amnesty question. Maybe you have answered this. The last bilateral between the NP the ANC when Van der Merwe and Maharaj were sent away to draw up what then became the postamble where it said 'There shall be amnesty', if the security forces looked at the draft settlement and said, you know this leaves the way open for large numbers of us to be indicted and charged, a Nuremberg type trial held and that's just not acceptable to us, they will have to amend it, we need to see our concerns taken care of. We've given our lives fighting for this country and we're not about to be made scapegoats and tried as criminals and possibly spend years in jail, have our careers and families destroyed. That's not only unfair it's intolerable. We want our concerns addressed and one of our concerns is amnesty. Was that message made loud and clear to government?
GM That we want amnesty?
POM That it was not only a major concern of yours but that you wanted to see it included as part of the settlement?
GM Yes, to a degree I think it was. I can't again give you firsthand knowledge because it was done with my predecessor but he was very adamant about amnesty and I would think that he would have spoken the thoughts that we had about it at the time. But because of the fact that we and the MK were of the same mind we were in fact happy in our minds that this thing would be addressed so it wasn't that we thought, hell, you do it or else, because the other side felt the same way we did. We were happy that this thing would be addressed so it wasn't such an urgent thing, you do this or else. That didn't come into it. I think because of the fact that at the time this thing was drawn up, it was November I think, we were now also in the process of talking to one another from April through to November.
POM That was going on as parallel to the multiparty talks at Kempton Park?
GM Yes. So we have exchanged ideas, among others, on the point of amnesty that we felt very strongly about it. When we learned that they were going to do a separate aspect on amnesty we were happy about it. So my predecessor I think would have said that we felt very strongly about it, to the government. Whether that went through I'm not sure because he would have been speaking to Kobie Coetsee and how well Kobie's voice was heard in the bilateral I'm not sure. But that he was pushed very strongly, that we felt very strongly about it, was so. But it wasn't such a high concern because we know the other side felt the same way so something would have been done. It wasn't as if one bloke said no and the other bloke said I want it. It wasn't that sort of thing.
POM But did it not concern you that since the ANC would be in government they could say everybody in the MK was a freedom fighter and therefore has amnesty? Everybody who was on the other side was an enemy and therefore
GM I don't think that would ever have happened because nothing so much in words was said but the ANC know that they didn't have the military power to do a thing like that. It would have been a complete disaster and I think they knew that from the talks we had with one another.
POM So if the military had ever turned against the process, if the ANC said we're going to try all you guys, then they would have had a real problem on their hands?
GM Yes, for sure. I think they knew that without it being said in so many words.
POM OK. Thank you ever so much for your time.
This is three of your five sons?
GM I have five children of which three are in the military. I have two sons and one daughter, one son is married and his wife is also in the military. The one daughter is married and her husband is also in the military. So I've got five children in the military.