The ne­go­ti­a­tions to set SA free THE TALKS , THE TRUST AND THE FI­NAL DAYS OF APARTHEID

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Old arch-en­e­mies met one an­other as South Africans Both sides held their en­thu­si­asm un­der wraps

In the early 1990s, South Africa was on a knife-edge. Nel­son Man­dela was free at last, but a peace­ful po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion looked vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble, with both sides of the di­vide poised to take up arms. As a se­nior ne­go­tia­tor, Niël Barnard was in the en­gine room of the his­toric ne­go­ti­a­tions which al­most de­railed sev­eral times. Here he re­mem­bers how the ANC and the then Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency (NIA) met in se­cret in ho­tel rooms in Europe to make it all hap­pen

THERE was no time to spare; the wheels were duly set in mo­tion for Op­er­a­tion Flair. While any re­spon­si­ble in­tel­li­gence ser­vice must, nat­u­rally, act within the law and with the nec­es­sary man­date, we could hardly in­form the politi­cians of the de­tails of the highly se­cret plan to make con­tact with the ANC.

With this in mind, the day af­ter FW de Klerk’s elec­tion as state pres­i­dent on Au­gust 15,1989, a care­fully worded pro­posal was sub­mit­ted to the State Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (SSC).

It read: “It is im­per­a­tive that more in­for­ma­tion be gained and pro­cessed on the ANC and on the aims, al­liances and po­ten­tial ac­ces­si­bil­ity of its re­spec­tive lead­ers and group­ings. To re­alise th­ese ob­jec­tives, ad­di­tional direct ac­tion will be nec­es­sary, in par­tic­u­lar with the as­sis­tance of the func­tionar­ies of the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice.”

The SSC ap­proved this unan­i­mously.

I must ad­mit that I did not in­form De Klerk about our se­cret, but well-meant, mo­tives at this stage.

The most ob­vi­ous mem­ber of the ANC lead­er­ship to con­tact over­seas was the in­flu­en­tial Thabo Mbeki, the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s head of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, who was based in Lon­don. There were many av­enues for us to con­tact him and the ex­ter­nal wing, but we had to use one that Mbeki trusted and con­sid­ered cred­i­ble.

Such an av­enue was the es­teemed Stel­len­bosch aca­demic and philoso­pher, Wil­lie Ester­huyse, who had al­ready built up a good per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Mbeki, thanks to a se­ries of talks held at Mells Park House in Som­er­set, Eng­land.

Mbeki and the ANC’s ex­ter­nal wing had to feel se­cure in the be­lief that this was not just an­other false alarm – that the gov­ern­ment was se­ri­ous about ne­go­ti­at­ing and would act hon­ourably.

By this time, an as­sort­ment of self-ap­pointed in­ter­me­di­aries be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the ANC had come to the fore. Th­ese com­mu­ni­cated con­fus­ing and some­times toad­y­ing mes­sages to Lusaka. The gov­ern­ment could sim­ply not af­ford this.

To com­pli­cate mat­ters even fur­ther, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the gov­ern­ment and the ANC were be­ing watched with ea­gle eyes, par­tic­u­larly by se­cret ser­vice agen­cies in Amer­ica and Bri­tain – the CIA and MI6 (Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, SIS) – and we could not al­low them to ma­nip­u­late the process from the out­set, based on their in­for­ma­tion about de­vel­op­ments.

We met Ester­huyse in a safe house, a flat in Som­er­set West. He agreed to com­mu­ni­cate our in­ten­tions to Mbeki in Lon­don. Af­ter solemn as­sur­ances from Ester­huyse that it was not a trap, Mbeki agreed to a meet­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency in Lucerne, Switzer­land.

Af­ter many calls be­tween Maritz Spaar­wa­ter (alias John Camp­bell), NI’s chief di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions, and Thabo Mbeki (alias John Sime­lane), it was ar­ranged that the two, each with a col­league, would meet on Septem­ber 12 in the Palace Ho­tel in Lucerne.

Early that evening, Mike Louw and Spaar­wa­ter booked into the Palace in two ad­join­ing rooms with a shared sit­ting area. Mbeki and Ja­cob Zuma (alias Jack Sime­lane) had landed in Geneva ear­lier that same day and trav­elled to Lucerne by car, un­aware that they were be­ing fol­lowed the en­tire way by NI agents. At the re­cep­tion desk in the Palace, they were shown to rooms 338 and 339.

The men on both sides were tense and sus­pi­cious. Mbeki and Zuma had ev­ery rea­son to mis­trust the sit­u­a­tion. “It could have been a trap; on open­ing the door, they could have been mown down,” Louw said later. So, they left the room door open.

Even­tu­ally the two ANC lead­ers ar­rived and, when they saw the two South Africans, they walked in.

“Well, here we are… bloody ter­ror­ists and, for all you know, f***ing com­mu­nists as well,” Mbeki said coolly.

“We all laughed. It broke the ice,” said Louw.

Four days af­ter Pres­i­dent De Klerk’s epoch-mak­ing speech in Par­lia­ment on Fe­bru­ary 2,1990, Louw and Spaar­wa­ter were back in Lucerne. This time they met Mbeki and Aziz Pa­had in the Palace Ho­tel. The NI men still trav­elled un­der false names and car­ried false pass­ports to avoid at­tract­ing un­due at­ten­tion.

The at­mos­phere was re­laxed and ev­ery­one was in high spir­its in the af­ter­glow of Fe­bru­ary 2. But the time for get­ting to know one an­other had passed and there were se­ri­ous is­sues on the agenda: how mem­bers of the ANC, the Pan African­ist Congress of Aza­nia (PAC) and the South African Com­mu­nist Party (SACP) – un­til a few days pre­vi­ously, still banned or­gan­i­sa­tions – were to be brought back into the coun­try; how to pre­vent the se­cu­rity forces from crack­ing down on the “ter­ror­ists”; how to pre­vent right-wing white ex­trem­ists from tak­ing the law into their own hands… pro­ce­dures and struc­tures had to be put in place to man­age all th­ese as­pects.

The gov­ern­ment’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives in­sisted that the ANC lead­er­ship at the high­est level, prefer­ably its na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC), should re­act pos­i­tively to De Klerk’s an­nounce­ments of Fe­bru­ary 2; that the or­gan­i­sa­tion should ex­er­cise greater dis­ci­pline to con­trol protest ac­tion in­side the coun­try; and that a pro­ce­dure be agreed upon to end the armed strug­gle.

The group de­cided to form four work­ing com­mit­tees to han­dle ur­gent mat­ters: Man­dela’s re­lease; the re­lease of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers and those in de­ten­tion; and fa­cil­i­tat­ing struc­tures for talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the ANC, and those be­tween the NIA and the ANC’s in­tel­li­gence net­work.

Two weeks later, I was joined by Mike Louw and Fanie van der Merwe, the ad­viser on con­sti­tu­tional mat­ters from the Depart­ment of Con­sti­tu­tional De­vel­op­ment, for the next meet­ing with the ANC group, com­pris­ing Thabo Mbeki, Ja­cob Zuma, Aziz Pa­had and now also Joe Nhlanhla, head of ANC in­tel­li­gence.

For se­cu­rity rea­sons, the meet­ing was moved to Bern, the Swiss cap­i­tal.

Pres­i­dent De Klerk was fully in­formed and we un­der­took to con­tin­u­ally keep him up to date on all de­vel­op­ments. This time, comprehensive lo­gis­ti­cal plan­ning had to be un­der­taken for the re­turn of ANC mem­bers to South Africa and their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the open­ing con­fer­ence of the ne­go­ti­a­tion process.

The three of us left South Africa, landed in Geneva on Fe­bru­ary 21 and trav­elled to Bern by train. In the same car­riage were three of NI’s ex­pe­ri­enced op­er­a­tors, in­clud­ing two women. We recog­nised one an­other – with­out any ac­knowl­edge­ment of this.

While we set­tled our­selves into the Belle­vue Palace Ho­tel in Bern, Louw made con­tact with his NI op­er­a­tional col­leagues out­side the ho­tel to make sure that ev­ery­thing was in or­der and that no en­e­mies from other coun­tries were watch­ing us.

On our side, the at­mos­phere was ex­tremely tense. So much could go wrong. Strolling through Bern’s peace­ful streets, we re­peat­edly went over the agenda for the talks and dis­cussed ev­ery last lo­gis­ti­cal de­tail. We were acutely aware that we could not make a hash of the talks: South Africa could not af­ford to be­gin the ne­go­ti­a­tions with dis­agree­ment and un­nec­es­sary sus­pi­cion.

The next morn­ing, at the ho­tel’s break­fast ta­ble we recog­nised the Mbeki team in the din­ing room, but nei­ther they nor we gave any sign of this. An hour or so later the two old arch-en­e­mies met one an­other as South Africans in my ho­tel room and the ne­go­ti­a­tions, which were re­laxed and good-na­tured, could be­gin.

With his quips, Mike Louw had ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially Zuma, in fits of laugh­ter, such as when he re­lated his con­cern about wast­ing wa­ter in the ho­tel’s toi­lets in com­par­i­son with the wa­ter-sav­ing pit toi­lets of his child­hood days on a farm near arid Prieska in the North­ern Cape.

The dis­cus­sions were pur­pose­ful and went on un­til the early hours of the fol­low­ing morn­ing. They fo­cused sharply on the ar­range­ments needed for bring­ing the van­guard group of ANC mem­bers back into South Africa so that they could at­tend the first for­mal, open ne­go­ti­a­tions on the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture. There was never any ques­tion of un­der­tak­ing this plan­ning process with­out the ANC’s full part­ner­ship.

Mbeki, the ANC group’s spokesper­son, in­formed us that some of his com­rades be­lieved that the gov­ern­ment wanted to use the oc­ca­sion as a pre­text for lur­ing the ex­ter­nal wing’s lead­er­ship back into South Africa, only to put them be­hind bars. Hap­pily, we were able to make short shrift of this ridicu­lous sug­ges­tion.

We told them that, if we did not ac­cept one an­other’s bona fides and in­tegrity, there was lit­tle hope of tack­ling the ne­go­ti­a­tions – or, for that mat­ter, the cur­rent talks – with any suc­cess.

We also pointed out that far greater chal­lenges to mu­tual ac­cep­tance of our trust­wor­thi­ness and hon­esty as ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners no doubt lay ahead.

Mbeki also wanted to know how the gov­ern­ment would re­act if Joe Slovo, chief of staff of MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe) and gen­eral sec­re­tary of the SACP, was part of the ANC’s core team at the ini­tial ne­go­ti­a­tions.

We an­swered that we were hardly in a po­si­tion to choose the mem­bers of their ne­go­ti­a­tion team – and went on to joke that the gov­ern­ment could even con­sider in­clud­ing right-wing fire-eater Eugène Terre’Blanche, leader of the Afrikaner Weer­stands­be­weg­ing (AWB), in its own ne­go­ti­at­ing team.

How­ever, that evening, when I gave Pres­i­dent De Klerk pro­vi­sional feed­back on the course of the dis­cus­sions, he dug in his heels and ob­jected in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms to the very idea of the in­clu­sion of Slovo in the ANC team, say­ing that his sup­port­ers would refuse to ac­cept it. Af­ter a some­what lengthy ex­change of ideas, I re­minded him of the Basil D’Oliveira fi­asco of 1968: the gov­ern­ment had re­fused to grant the for­mer South African, a coloured bats­man of note, a visa to tour South Africa as a mem­ber of the English cricket team. This had led to the can­cel­la­tion of the tour – which, in turn, had en­cour­aged var­i­ous other sports sanc­tions against South Africa. De Klerk fi­nally agreed that we could not af­ford such fool­ish­ness in the up­com­ing po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tion process.

In ad­di­tion to the plan­ning of the ne­go­ti­a­tions in South Africa, a num­ber of po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial chal­lenges were raised time and again by both sides, but not dis­cussed in de­tail – which was not the aim of the meet­ing. Fur­ther­more, as of­fi­cials, we were nei­ther com­pe­tent nor qual­i­fied to take a stance on mat­ters of pol­icy or core prin­ci­ples.

An­other ques­tion Mbeki posed was in­sight­ful: Would the gov­ern­ment per­mit the tra­di­tional prac­tice of toyi-toy­ing by his com­rades dur­ing po­lit­i­cal demon­stra­tions? The mo­bil­i­sa­tion of the masses was still one of the ANC’s most po­tent weapons and, on this, as far as the or­gan­i­sa­tion was con­cerned, there could be no com­pro­mise.

My an­swer to Mbeki was that mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion of­ten led to acts of revo­lu­tion­ary vi­o­lence and that the ANC ap­peared un­able to con­trol its sup­port­ers when mass hys­te­ria gained the up­per hand. The se­cu­rity forces would then have to step in; af­ter all, we could not con­duct or­derly and peace­ful dis­cus­sions against a back­ground of threats and ma­nip­u­la­tion by an un­con­trolled mob.

That evening, we en­joyed a de­li­cious meal to­gether in the ho­tel’s restau­rant. And, even later, in the early hours, I or­dered a bot­tle of Chivas Royal Salute – a fit­ting 21 years old – to be sent to the ho­tel room. Both sides held their en­thu­si­asm care­fully un­der wraps, but se­cretly we knew that our peace­ful rev­o­lu­tion had come of age.

DRAMA: Dr Niël Barnard (Mark Strong) and FW de Klerk (Matthew Marsh) in the movie ‘Endgame’, which drama­tises the fi­nal days of apartheid in South Africa, fo­cus­ing on the se­cret talks held be­tween the ANC and the Afrikaner Na­tional Party, the topic of Niël Barnard’s book.

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