Authors: Robin Renwick
De Lange described a long discussion he had had with Thabo Mbeki at a conference in New York in 1986. ANC president Oliver Tambo also had been asking to see him. De Lange was scathing about Dr Andries Treurnicht and the Conservative Party (CP), whose members had been trying to paralyse any thinking about the future in the Broederbond. His view was that the Group Areas Act and the Separate Amenities Act would have to go. PW Botha thought exclusively in terms of Afrikaner interests; he would not allow Mandela to die in jail, but would go on insisting on an absolute renunciation of violence. De Lange's conviction was that there would have to be a
historic compromise between Afrikaner and black nationalism and that this would have to come sooner rather than later.
I said that it seemed to me that the one encouraging feature of the situation was the intensity of the debate within Afrikanerdom about the direction reform should take. Although not numerically strong, people like Hermann Giliomee, Willie Esterhuyse and FW de Klerk's brother, Wimpie, represented an important fraction of the intellectual elite in a society which paid more homage to professors than we did in Britain!
There followed a meeting with the head of the Dutch Reformed Church, Professor Johan Heyns. I was to spend many hours with him at his modest bungalow in a suburb of Pretoria. Professor Heyns had declared apartheid a heresy, thereby splitting his church and provoking the fury of the conservatives. He was to prove the most effective of allies in a series of tight corners over the next four years. He was assassinated in November 1994 by a right-wing gunman while playing cards with his granddaughter in the house where he had received me with such kindness.
The Bank of England had impressed upon me the high regard in which they held the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Gerhard de Kock. I found him pessimistic about South Africa's economic prospects. He was predicting 2 per cent growth in the economy for 1987 and 1988 â not enough to keep pace with the increase in population. This weakness he saw as the result of PW Botha's stop/go attitude to political reform. He was determined that South Africa must honour its debts. But the refusal of the Western banks to extend any further credit meant that the country was obliged to export capital
to pay down its debts, rather than importing capital to fund its development.
When I arrived in South Africa, relations with the leaders of the UDF were strained because of the British government's opposition to sanctions. It was obvious that greater efforts needed to be made by us to get much closer to the future leadership of the country. Some of the younger members of the embassy and consulates had good contacts in the townships. I encouraged them to give an over-riding priority to developing these. It was difficult and sometimes hazardous but very rewarding work, which they did to such effect that they became known as the âtownship attachÃ©s'.
It was not possible to send young members of the embassy into the townships, still less to visit them myself, as I aimed most weeks to do, without doing more to help the people living there. First Chris Patten and then Lynda Chalker, as the ministers in charge of overseas aid, allocated the relatively modest sums needed to enable us to support, eventually, over three hundred projects in Soweto, Mamelodi, Crossroads, Gugulethu and many of the other townships and squatter camps in the Cape and the Transvaal. These projects, amazingly, were controversial at the time, as it was argued by various anti-apartheid campaigners outside South Africa that this was merely ameliorating apartheid and, therefore, postponing the day of reckoning. This doctrine of âworse is better' did not appeal to me. Above all, it did not appeal to people in the townships, who desperately needed help and support. Virtually all the projects we supported were run by determined opponents of the regime, and when their parties were unbanned we discovered what we knew already â that
we had established contact with most of the internal leadership of the ANC and PAC.
I tried also to establish friendships with a number of ex-Robben Islanders who had served long sentences in prison with Mandela, including Neville Alexander, who made the film
Robben Island Our University.
Several of those who had been released belonged to the Africanist tradition, including Fikile Bam and Dikgang Moseneke, both of whom went on to distinguished legal careers in the post-apartheid era â Moseneke as Deputy Chief Justice. In Soweto, Dr Nthato Motlana continued to play a prominent role on behalf of the ANC, and I made regular visits to Albertina Sisulu. I also tried to show all the support I could for the Delmas treason trialists, Popo Molefe and Mosiuoa âTerror' Lekota, by attending sessions of their trial, and was rewarded with their friendship when they eventually were released.
In Johannesburg, I made contact with Cyril Ramaphosa, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), at the time in the thick of a miners' strike. Ramaphosa, a redoubtable negotiator, assured me that he had no intention of âdoing a Scargill' and destroying his own union (Arthur Scargill had led the British mineworkers to defeat in a year-long confrontation with the government of Margaret Thatcher in 1984â85). After he had extracted all the concessions he could, one week later the strike was settled.
As our purpose was to persuade the government to talk to the real black opposition leaders, we sought to use the embassy and consulates as a proving ground for this. A number of Robben Islanders became regular visitors to the embassy, as did a number of National
Party MPs. We invited representatives of both groups to the embassy, without telling them who else might be there. This led at first to one or two difficult moments, but not for long, as they became accustomed to these encounters and found that there was plenty to discuss. For those who had been imprisoned at one time or another did want to tell those in or close to authority about their experiences, the effects on them and their families of the apartheid laws, including the still-segregated schools and residential areas, and their political demands. There were by now people in positions of real power and influence in Afrikaner society and on the fringes of government, or among its younger elements, who wanted to know whom in fact they were going to be dealing with. Some at least among them could hardly fail to be impressed by the qualities of those the regime had condemned to years of imprisonment for their political acts and views.
There followed a meeting with PW Botha's chief henchman, the Minister of Defence, Magnus Malan, leader of the group of so-called securocrats â key ministers and senior defence, police and intelligence chiefs â surrounding the President. A former Chief of the SADF, Malan was the leading proponent of the theory of the âtotal onslaught' against South Africa by the Soviet Union and its allies. Though careful not to give written orders to this effect, Malan was a great believer in âtaking out' enemies of the regime, internally through special force units, which had developed into assassination squads, and externally by whatever means were necessary. He had received from PW Botha our warning about cross-border raids, but contended that he had to defend South Africa against terrorist groups poised to cross the borders. I said that of course he would defend the borders, but
the air strikes on neighbouring capitals that had put an end to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group's visit had not hit any ANC targets at all.
Malan claimed that, in Mozambique, Renamo were not getting help from the South African military. I said that, if that were so, they most certainly were getting help from others in South Africa. He expressed concern about the major Angolan offensive, involving the Cubans and Russians, being mounted against Unita leader Jonas Savimbi's base at Jamba, in the southeast of the country. The Angolans had a vast amount of heavy equipment and air defence missiles supplied by the Russians, posing military problems for South Africa. I had little doubt that the very capable South African forces operating inside Angola, with their own air support, would stop the Angolan advance. But, clearly, the war there was becoming more costly for the South Africans.
I had a first meeting with FW de Klerk, leader of the National Party in the Transvaal, and then Minister of National Education. De Klerk was reputed to be a very conservative figure, but I found him to be open, friendly and impressively self-confident. He knew, he said, of my involvement in the Rhodesia settlement. He wanted me to know that, if he had his way, South Africa would not make the same mistake the Rhodesians had. What was the mistake, I asked. âLeaving it far too late to negotiate with the real black leaders,' was the reply.
The Separate Amenities Act, he said, would be repealed in due course. The Group Areas Act could not be repealed immediately,
because of the concerns of poorer whites, who were disposed to vote for Treurnicht and his colleagues in the Conservative Party. As sports minister (1978â79) he had abolished apartheid in sport, only for the international sports sanctions to remain in place.
I made the journey to the Zulu capital, Ulundi, to meet Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Chief Minister of Kwazulu. He had rejected the government's offer of âindependence' for his homeland and insisted that he would not negotiate until Mandela was released. The ANC and Buthelezi's party, Inkatha, were engaged in a bloody struggle for power and territory in Natal, with Inkatha predominant in the quasi-feudal rural areas and the ANC among Zulu youths in the townships.
Visiting Buthelezi in his stronghold at Ulundi was like stepping back in time. On ceremonial occasions he was to be found brandishing a battle axe and wearing a necklace of lions' teeth, but these accoutrements disguised a very sharp mind indeed. He was intensely conscious and proud of the history of the Zulu nation, reminding me that he had himself played the role of King Cetshwayo in the 1964 film
, which also starred a young Michael Caine.
He knew the Prime Minister well, having been introduced to her by the writer Sir Laurens van der Post. She found Buthelezi's views on sanctions and the armed struggle far more compatible than those of the ANC. Laurens van der Post, who was a friend of the Prime Minister and of the Prince of Wales, believed that the Zulus were the key to the future of South Africa. In an attempt to broaden his horizons, I arranged for him also to meet Thabo Mbeki, but Laurens dismissed the pipe-smoking Thabo as unacceptably westernised. When she asked me about Laurens's opinions, I told Margaret
Thatcher that, while Buthelezi had strong support in Natal and among the Zulu mineworkers on the Witwatersrand, Mandela and the ANC had nationwide support. There could be no settlement without them, as Buthelezi himself recognised.
In this meeting, Buthelezi said that the problem was defeating two evils â poverty and apartheid, not just apartheid. The experience of neighbouring Mozambique showed the futility of liberation coupled with economic ruin. Apartheid was doomed, but ANC bombs pushed white South Africans deeper into the laager. They were attacking the state at its strongest point. After twenty-five years of ANC attacks, there were no âliberated zones'; not even a single bridge had been destroyed. He would continue to seek genuine negotiations through an inclusive
(discussion). He had just rejected the latest attempts by the government to draw him into negotiations on their proposed National Council. They wanted black representation, but only in a purely advisory role.
I had my first meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of whom I was a wholehearted admirer. He had been boycotting my predecessor because of his disagreement with the British government about sanctions. So, before setting off for South Africa, I went to Lambeth Palace to see the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, who knew of my involvement in the Rhodesia negotiations. I asked him on that basis to point out to Desmond Tutu that I could hardly be regarded as a supporter of apartheid, which he kindly agreed to do.
Each meeting with Desmond Tutu would open with the words, âLet us pray', with both of us falling to our knees. After I got to know him better, I suggested that this was his way of letting me know that there were three of us in the room and I was outnumbered. In reality, he was absolutely right. For with South Africa at the time in the grip of PW Botha and General Malan, who had created the CCB, a secret
paramilitary unit to eliminate enemies of the regime, there was indeed plenty to pray about.
Desmond Tutu said that he knew I was not a believer in general sanctions. He was an advocate of sanctions only because he could see no alternative. âConstructive engagement', the phrase coined by US envoy Dr Chester Crocker, had failed. Tutu felt that Britain's opposition to sanctions was based on our commercial interests. I said that our economic interests and jobs in Britain were indeed a factor in our attitude to sanctions. But there were other factors too. If we had agreed that Europe should ban the import of fruit and vegetables from South Africa, this would have been liable to put a hundred thousand non-whites out of work, rendering with their dependants half a million people destitute. If we believed that further sanctions would cause apartheid to be removed within two or three years, I had no doubt that we would impose them. But we did not believe that. People who lost their jobs would be out of work for the foreseeable future, as Tutu himself acknowledged.
I added that, if comprehensive sanctions were imposed, the economy of Zimbabwe would collapse long before that of South Africa, as would the economies of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. If companies like BP and Shell left, their health, welfare, education, training, pensions and scholarships programmes would be lost. I did not expect him to agree, but I did ask him to accept that our opposition to general sanctions was sincerely based.
I gave him details of our assistance to Mozambique. He said that President Chissano had spoken to him about this. He knew that the Prime Minister had advised the Americans against support for
Renamo. I explained that we also had launched a us$20 million programme to provide scholarships for black South Africans. We also were giving direct help to a lot of church and community group projects in the townships. I needed help from him on this, as some of the external anti-apartheid organisations were contending that this was simply âameliorating apartheid'. Tutu promised his support for the projects. He continued to decline to meet US and British representatives so long as their governments opposed additional sanctions, but decided to waive this ban so far as I was concerned.
I was able to start establishing a particularly close relationship with the South African Director-General for Foreign Affairs, Neil van Heerden, one of the most outstanding public servants I ever encountered, in his own or any other country. He assured me of his determination, and that of Pik Botha, to make progress at long last towards a solution of the Namibia dispute. Pik Botha, he said, genuinely wanted to work towards a normalisation of relations with Mozambique, an eventual signature by South Africa of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the release of Mandela.
I had a further discussion with Buthelezi focused on a message he had sent to PW Botha pointing out the consequences of Mandela's dying in prison, and saying that his release was the key to unblocking the political situation. It would be impossible to get a real negotiation going while Mandela remained in jail.
The fighting between Inkatha and the ANC had led to over four hundred deaths around Pietermaritzburg in Natal. The Prime Minister had told Buthelezi that she wanted efforts made to bring the violence to an end. We supported efforts by his deputy, Oscar Dhlomo, to reach
an agreement with the UDF about this. In Lusaka, Thabo Mbeki knew that Mandela was in favour of mending fences with Buthelezi. Buthelezi said that he accepted Mbeki's bona fides and those of Oliver Tambo. But Chris Hani, head of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, had said publicly that it was the policy of MK to seek to assassinate members of the Inkatha Central Committee, including Buthelezi. He regarded the ANC's attempts to overthrow the government by force as futile. But the ANC was not going to melt away and nor was Inkatha.
The finance minister, Barend du Plessis, had reached the same conclusions about South Africa's financial situation as Gerhard de Kock. The capital outflow had somehow to be reversed. Du Plessis had the reputation of being more
than De Klerk, as did several of his colleagues. But the South African government still was under the iron hand of PW Botha, who exercised a reign of terror over the cabinet. He believed in intimidation across the board. At this time, infuriated one evening by the television news, he telephoned the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to get the news changed in the middle of the programme!
Margaret Thatcher, meanwhile, had been attending the Commonwealth conference in Vancouver, at which she felt that the Canadian hosts were trying to play to the African gallery. She flatly opposed any sanctions that would cause mass unemployment, telling Robert Mugabe that 80 per cent of Zimbabwe's trade passed through South Africa and that one million Zimbabweans lived and worked there. At the end of the conference, she was asked by a journalist about a statement by the local representative of the ANC that, if she
continued to oppose sanctions, British businesses in South Africa would become legitimate targets for attack. Understandably irritated, she replied that this showed what a typical terrorist organisation the ANC was.
While a determined opponent of apartheid, Thatcher had never been an admirer of the ANC, given that the âarmed struggle' had been extended to civilian targets and included the necklacing of âcollaborators', and that the organisation was committed to nationalisation of much of the economy. Moreover, she had not failed to notice that, despite the SACP's lack of any mass support, two thirds of the ANC's politburo were members of the SACP. Nor did she believe for a moment that they were in a position to âseize power'. Nevertheless, she had been persuaded that the ANC had nationwide support and there could be no solution without them.
On her return to London, I telephoned the Prime Minister's Private Secretary, Charles Powell, to say that I understood why she had reacted as she had to a stupidly provocative statement by the ANC representative, who had been speaking on his own behalf. But as he well knew, through the programmes we were organising in the townships, we were in touch with much of the internal leadership of the ANC, while a colleague in Lusaka was in daily touch with the ANC leadership there. Downing Street agreed that of course these contacts must continue. This was confirmed also to Lynda Chalker, Minister of State in the Foreign Office, with the proviso that it should be our objective to get the ANC to agree to a suspension of violence.
At the end of October, I was asked to pass a simple message from the Prime Minister to PW Botha. This was that she had refrained from
putting pressure on him, but if he did nothing he would make things difficult for everyone, including him. A few days later, on 5 November, there was a modest step forward, with the release from prison of the long-term Robben Islander and hardline Marxist, Govan Mbeki, father of Thabo. In reporting this, I warned the Prime Minister that the release of Mandela was as remote as ever.
Meeting with another senior member of the government, the courteous and erudite Gerrit Viljoen, De Lange's predecessor as head of the Broederbond. His scholarly accomplishments included first-class honours in Classics from King's College, Cambridge. Asked what I wanted to talk about, I said that it was the resettlement of the Magopa people, victims of a forced removal from the Ventersdorp district in 1983. Viljoen put his head in his hands. âOh no,' he said, âI have just had the most dreadful hour with Mrs Suzman about the Magopas and now there's you!' In the event, a partial resettlement was agreed for the Magopas. I had an equally friendly meeting with his cabinet colleague, Dawie de Villiers, former captain of the Springbok rugby team, who also appeared firmly in the ranks of the
I kept telling South African audiences in Johannesburg and Cape Town that the international campaign for increasing sanctions against them was born not of malevolence, but of frustration at the lack of any visible progress towards any meaningful political rights for the black population. Apartheid was unsustainable; it also was unaffordable. The question was not whether it would disappear, but how protracted its death throes would be, and how much more self-inflicted damage would
be done meanwhile. Thanks to Ton Vosloo and the
, Willem Wepener and Ebbe Dommisse, these comments were featured regularly in the Afrikaans press.
At this time the government decided to try to silence one of its most effective critics, the
newspaper, which had shown itself to be particularly accurate in exposing many of the murkiest deeds of the security forces. I had befriended its courageous editor, Anton Harber, and other members of the editorial team. The government clearly was hoping that the paper would go to the wall financially before, through the courts, it could get permission to start publishing again. I went to see Anton Harber at the
office in Johannesburg to hand over sufficient funding for the paper to be able to survive for the three months or so that looked likely to be necessary to achieve this.
In Pretoria, I attended a party given by a young member of the embassy staff, John Sawers â nowadays head of MI6 â at which Johan Heyns was asked by a group of ANC supporters what he was trying to do. âI am trying to change the hearts and minds of my people,' replied Heyns. âThat's no use: we want power now,' they asserted. âBut you are not going to get power until I change the hearts and minds of my people,' was Heyns's reply.
I arranged for Helen Suzman to meet the Prime Minister. She told Margaret Thatcher that PW Botha had no plans to release Mandela. He wanted to keep the neighbouring countries vulnerable. He had run out of ideas for reform. We had to work on his potential successors.
At the end of the year, I had a discussion with Van Zyl Slabbert.
He believed, as I did, that the idea of a suspension rather than a renunciation of violence was one whose time would come, but not if it were served up from outside. Meanwhile, both sides still thought they could win â the security forces that they could contain the situation and the ANC that they could somehow seize power. Slabbert, Suzman and the influential Stellenbosch academics did not believe that either side could win, but it was still going to take some time for that realisation to sink in. Meanwhile, there was likely to be a period of violent evolution, with the government trying to co-opt black South Africans, without success, and the ANC trying to challenge the state militarily, with equally little success.