Robert Sid Ahmed,
TESSA: That's a wonderful answer, and I want to come back and just pick up on a couple of those points. (B/g talk with Jim) Just to go backwards in that case, for a moment, can you just tell me what South Africa's views were of the challenges posed by the emerging black African states in the 1970s?
PB: I do not believe that the government of the day ever regarded Africa as a military threat, or a threat from that point of view. The focus was on Soviet penetration and the possibility of the Soviet Union using unstable situations in Africa to benefit itself, to take root and foment trouble. That was the concern. But I remained, for instance, in touch after I became Minister of Foreign Affairs [at the] beginning of 1977: I built up personal relationships with quite a number of African countries, and I visited their presidents, I regularly visited the countries. These were, in the nature of things, not visits that were publicized. We maintained good commercial and trades relations with African countries, particularly our immediate neighbors; and in other respects we rendered assistance to Africa in technical fields, in agriculture, in medical fields, and a host of other matters. Maybe not enormous amounts, but sometimes very essential services; and advice was rendered. There were also visits by African ministers and African leaders to South Africa, all very quiet. We had guesthouses here where guests.. like that could come into the country even without a passport or a visa, and need not [be] booked into hotels and so on. We were isolated and ostracized in the world, and it was difficult to maintain relations openly, but we did maintain relations. And I certainly never... I never saw in Africa - not even in the OAU - a danger, because I was convinced that it would not have worked, you know, because in this country the majority are black people, they're black Africans, and any major conventional conflict, in my opinion - it's been my opinion all my life - would have been disastrous for them as well. So I never thought that that would be the route to take - I thought that would be a dangerous route.
TESSA: But was South Africa's security not threatened, her borders not threatened, by the possibility of the loss of the sort of white states that surrounded South Africa?
PB: Not really. By then, you know, the Portuguese had.. really lost control. You're dealing here with thousands and thousands of kof border. Whether they are there or not, whether the United States governed there and you put in 10 regiments or not, you're dealing with forest, bush country, sparsely populated in many parts, no roads, no infrastructure, and to the presday, we might have up to two million citizens from surrounding states either working here or coming in here, crossing the border, and it is a problem. It was a problem for the former government, it is a problem for the present government, because it makes our employment situation worse. We have unemployment in this country, which the present government is tackling and wish to, you know, reduce; and you cannot do so if citizens from other countries continuously cross your borders and take the jobs of our own people. So it has remained a problem to the present day, and it was a problem then. the problem has not changed much - this is what I'm trying to say to you.
TESSA: You said that the fear for South Africa was the Soviet Union and communism. Why was South Africa afraid of communism?
PB: In the first place, may I put it to you like this:... I think, in a way, the United States should reply to that question in the first place. I mean, we were not unaware of world events and of the so-called Cold War and the threats that were posed by that. I vividly remember - I was a diplomat stationed in Germany during those days - that... it was in Khrushchev's days... that he was sending ships to Cuba with some equipment on it, which President Kennedy opposed, and he warned Khrushchev to stop the boats. Khrushchev wouldn't. And then, for some hours - I do not know how long - I can assure you the whole world was waiting in awe to see what would happen if the Soviet ships and the American Navy meet on the high seas - because Kennedy said he was not going to allow them, he was going to search them. Khrushchev said: "You are not going to stop them." I was stationed in Germany, and I remember that Germans... maybe they are used to this kind of impending catastrophe... they bought all the stuff that has a long shelf-life, all the canned food, all the coffee, tea, sugar. You couldn't get anything in a shop in Germany. And a vast number of Germans who used to live in South Africa, who went back to Germany, suddenly overwhelmed the Embassy and said, "Can we go back to South Africa?" So, I just mention to you this one incident - it's a strong one. That signaled... reverberated throughout the world, that here you have the two superpowers, the two major powers - at times, they get along, there's a modus vivendi, but suddenly, suddenly, with an incident like this, you had Khrushchev, I think saying that they were going to bring the United States down without firing a bullet, or words to that effect. (Coughs) I mean, the irony is that the Soviet Union went down without a bullet being fired eventually, but that is a different matter. no, to be quite frank, it was certainly not only South Africa who shared this fear: it was, in the first instance, the United States of America. Your whole foreign policy - very often your internal policies - were influenced and based on the potential danger of the Soviet Union achieving world hegemony. Here, it was the same. Here, it was the same in the sense that being so far removed, not being part and party of any alignment, of any association of states, of any other power bloc, military or otherwise, our isolation was complete, with apartheid emphasizing that isolation and making it the more so impossible for any other state to support us. The fear here was perhaps greater, particularly from a military point of view. And you can imagine, when the Cuban troops were introduced, I think that was when it reached a peak eventually. And I'm very glad that we could overcome that situation without a major conflict.
TESSA: On the same...
TESSA: So can you tell me... I want to just make a further point... you say it's really the United States' war against communism. Can I not put it to you that within Africa there is a slightly different situation as well - that is, what you find with the black insurgent movements, the guerrilla movements that are actually espousing communism? Was that not a real fear for South Africa?
PB: The problem is... maybe researchers and historians must concentrate on this a little bit more... but I sometimes wonder, you know, to what extent the African guerrilla movements had no choice, because the United States, and very often Europe, refused weapons and arms, more or less also out of fear that if you have great instability in Africa, they would have to pay the price eventually; but also for the very laudable reason that the United States - and so did Europe and others - stood for a peaceful solution, the peaceful solution of problems, of conflict, wherever possible: negotiated settlements instead of settlements at the barrel of a gun. Now, unfortunately, your movements in Africa then had to turn to the only source for supplying them with the weapons, and that was normally the Soviet Union and its satellite states, you know, the whole lot of them: Eastern Germany, Hungary, Romania, Poland, the whole lot. And this is how it came about; and then came about this perception that in general, black African movements were also communist, which is certainly - I can give you the assurance - not true. There might have been individuals who harbored those sentiments, socialistic sentiments, or wanting to bring about an ideal socialistic state - yes, that was the case. There were also political movements in Africa which espoused that kind of concept and ideology. But I doubt... My impression, looking back today, is that to a large extent you had to do with national movements, movements that wanted to get rid of colonial power or powers that, you know, that they saw as colonial. We in South Africa have always been in a totally different position: you know, with the Afrikaner here for over 300 years longer than you've been in the United States, and having our own language, our own nationalism, we had two independent republics, the old Transvaal and the Orange Free State, before the turn of the century. And the United States already then had a consul here. So these were states, and they lost their independence in the Anglo-B-Boer War, which was the greatest anti-colonial war ever fought on the African continent. So you had this, I can almost say unique situation where there should have been, on the one hand, perhaps more sympathy for the guerrilla movements who were nationalistically based and had national objectives which were the same as the Afrikaner had in the olden days. There should have been more sympathy for African movements, but again, due to the run of history, the colonial powers that took over economical relations that started between South Africa then and the European governments and America and the others, you know, bring about economic realities which you also cannot change overnight that easily. But be that as it may, I don't believe that within Africa there was ever a strong communist force as such that wanted to take over or rule the continent or make it subject to the Soviet Union.
TESSA: So why did South Africa go into Angola, and what specific events (Overlap)...?
PB: (Overlap) The Cubans triggered that too... certainly they triggered it - there's no question about it. The moment they went in there to consolidate the position of the one party... you will recall that more or less at that time, in '73-'74, there was the Alvor agreement, in terms of which Angola would have been governed for a period up to elections by the three parties: UNITA, FNLA, MPLA. There would virtually have been three ministers per portfolio from the three parties, until elections. And the elections never took place. As I said, the Portuguese Government crumbled, and according to everyone I know, the Cubans came in as a result of Soviet interests, as a result of Soviet intentions and purposes, and.. triggered the whole thing immediately. In our case, South Afr, our military machine, was always geared to a possible attack, conventional attack, from outside, but inspired by a strong conventional force like the Soviet Union or their surrogates. And here was (unclear) now, here it comes now, the nightmare of many of the military generals suddenly come true, and here it is; and they could say, "We told you so - here's the threats. Now i's got to be stopped by all means." And this is I think what happened.
TESSA: Very good. Why was the South African intervention covert, why was it limited?
PB: I was in Washington then and not in government - let me make that clear in the first place. And as I said earlier, I could in Washington see on television what was happening in Angola, while South Africans could not. I suppose that... I don't know... I wonder whether you couldn't put that question to our military establishment. It has puzzled me also, because the Government paid a price subsequently wherever you kept it covert. You should never, in my opinion... I'm critical of that kind of operation. One should never keep from the public, mothers whose sons are fighting in such a war, you should not cover up, you should be open, it should be debatable.
TESSA: On whose side did South Africa go in on, and why?
PB: It went in on the side of UNITA, quite clearly. But in the first instance, as I understood the reports from South Africa at the time, as ambassador - of course, we were being fed with information, of course, by our head of us in Pretoria, wherever we were, and the main reason, according to the reports, was the potential of Cuban penetration towards the south, threatening then of becoming then really a major war.
TESSA: And to what extent did the United States co-operate with South Africa in the field?
PB: The co-operation, from my point of view, was, you know... I was then in Washington... What exactly happened between military establishments, I cannot tell you because I do not have the knowledge. I was not informed on that at all. I told you earlier of Mr. Vorster's, the Prime Minister of the day's surprise when I warned him that I expected a cutting-off of the funds of the United States. And that has remained a puzzle to me - namely, who conveyed that message to the South African Government, and at what level? It certainly was not Henry Kissinger, and it certainly was not the President of the United States of America.
TESSA: What was your assessment of the effectiveness of Cuban forces?
PB: The effectiveness of Cuban forces?
PB: Well, many books have been written on the various campaigns and the clashes which occurred. They could never reach the southern border. I think that speaks for itself. So the military establishment here believes that they succeeded in keeping them away from the border. And they never succeeded in invading Savimbi's headquarters, Jamba, and Jamba remained a spiritual haven for the UNITA movement. And... I suppose, you know, that... I think when the Soviet Union started to change its regional policy, its involvement in regional conflict, that was really the eventual decisive element in influencing the Cubans too; because I remember that when Dr. Chester Crocker and I met - I believe it was in Geneva, in March, about March '88 - that was the last year of President Reagan's Administration, and of course, we were concerned who would be the next United States President. We didn't know then that President Bush might be or would be, you know, re-elected. So... Dr. Crocker was a very realistic man, a man with a clinical approach to a problem. And I remember asking him about Soviet intentions, asking whether he could assure me, or had some more firm indication that the Soviet Union was beginning to withdraw from regional conflicts - because I thought that if we could get such an indication, then that would have an influence on the Angolan situation, and then that might improve our bargaining position to get the Cubans out of Angola. And of course, Dr. Crocker couldn't, but we more or less agreed that the two of us would continue with negotiations on Namibia's independence on the basis, on the assumption that there was a change in Soviet policy. And the reason was, it was not clear at that stage whether the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan was genuine. And I remember Crocker saying to me, "Look, if by October we see that it was not genuine, we can always stop whatever processes we now set in motion." And I'm very glad we did that, because we then started seriously to meet with delegations of Cuba, Angola, with the United States and the Soviet Union as observers. The United States presence was open and strong in all these meetings, whilst the Soviet Union still hung back a bit; they were there, but in the shadows, but they were there. And so we carried on for most of 1988. By October, it was indeed clear that there was a change in general in what I would call Soviet global policy, global policy. It was clear there was a change. What the results would be, we didn't know, but it was good news from our point of view, and it was a great moment for them in December '88 to sign with the Cubans and the Angolans, at the United Nations headquarters, of all places, the agreements which then paved the way for Namibia's independence on the one hand, and for Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola on the other hand; and that in turn paved the way for South Africa to release Mr. Mandela and other political prisoners, and remove the ban on political parties, which in turn opened the way for negotiations with the ANC and others, which led to the 19..94 elections and changed the whole scene in South Africa and southern Africa.