Robert Sid Ahmed,
INTERVIEW WITH INTERVIEW WITH PIK BOTHA (20/5/97)
TESSA: Could you start by telling me, please, South Africa's perceptions of Soviet aims in Africa in the mid-Seventies, and how Soviet aims were seen as a threat?
PIK BOTHA: I believe they were very much the same as the United States of America. Broadly speaking... the South African authorities thought that the Soviet Union was expanding, causing problems in regions of the world and, through regional conflict, intended to, or had as its purpose or aim, then, the fomenting of revolutions, conflict, so that regimes could come into being in various parts of the world that would favor the Soviet Union as against the United States of America. That was more or less - I'm over-simplifying, of course - the general perception.
TESSA: And did the sort of crumbling of the Portuguese empire place a threat to South Africa? Was that seen as a problem? How was that seen as a threat?
PB: It was a very complicated situation. Many South Africans simply saw that as another attempt by the Soviet Union to cause problems and unrest and instability, and thus wishing to gain from it by, for instance, following up with surrogate forces or forces, you know, friendly towards them. And, to me, as a foreign affairs expert, I suppose, at the time, or a person who was in foreign affairs, it was more complicated. The Portuguese colonial rule had to come to an end, with or without a Soviet assistance or Cuban assistance - it had to come to an end. It was virtually the last colonial power in Africa, and the time was just ripe for Portugal to depart. There was no way that they could maintain the history of the past. By 1973-74, in all these regions, you know, wars took place, rebellions took place, by forces who were also anti-communistic, like UNITA. UNITA was an anti-Communist organization, and has remained that ever since. So the situation was a bit more complicated than merely saying: this is just another attempt by the Soviet Union, you know, to spread its influence and to make gains, territorial gains and regional gains against the United States' interests.
TESSA: But had South Africa not supported, to some extent, the Portuguese regime?
PB: Yes, we did, unfortunately, I think, for too long. Before I became Minister of Foreign Affairs in '77, I was involved in what was then called the South-West Africa cases at the World Court, which Ethiopia and Liberia brought against South Africa on its alleged illegal occupation of South-West Africa, today Namibia. And... it was clear to me from research we did from the purposes of the court case, that it was inevitable that Portuguese rule would have to come to an end. But, you know, it is one of those things - governments take a long time, sometimes, to catch up with reality. It takes time. It's strange: sometimes, sadly, a tragedy is needed, or a shocking or devastating event is needed to open the eyes of policy-makers. And I suppose this was one of those instances.
TESSA: Where did South Africa see herself in terms of Cold War alignments?
PB: We couldn't align ourselves to any power, not even the United States, because the United States was irrevocably - whether it was a Democratic government or a Republican government, they were irrevocably (Clears throat) and firmly and unconditionally against apartheid. It was merely a change in style that I experienced between the various governments, or a change in approaches; but as far as the purpose was concerned, apartheid also had to go in the eyes of the United States of America, but also in the eyes of the United Nations, in the eyes of the Europeans, in the eyes of everyone. And this was a particularly difficult situation from the South African Government's point of view - namely: the United States saw apartheid as a drawing card, as something that the Soviet Union could use to gain more influence and power in South Africa, and accused the South African Government, saying, "Look, yes, we agree with you that the Soviet Union is a threat. We agree that it is often engaged in regional conflicts to foment trouble, to create new communist regimes, to the detriment of the free world. But we strongly disagree with you that apartheid could be sustained. It is a danger: it attracts communism, it makes it possible for the Soviet Union to penetrate further south in Africa, and it puts the United States in a very, very great dilemma."
TESSA: But didn't, to some extent, the United States nevertheless encourage investment in South Africa? Was there a certain amount of duplicity, do you think, in America's policy towards South Africa?
PB: I would like to ask you to formulate that question again.
TESSA: I was wondering whether there was an extent to which America co-operated to a large extent with South Africa, in terms that it shared the same sorts of values, it encouraged investment - one had, you know, capitalistic sort of interests down here?
PB: No, not from a governmental point of view, certainly not. I was, as I say, a member of the South African diplomatic service for many years, and when I entered politics, I was soon thereafter appointed ambassador, so I resumed what I considered to be my career. And I can assure you that the State Department of the United States was pretty much always aggressively on the attack. I must tell you that it is really... it would be a travesty of truth to say that there was duplicity. I think (unclear) coined the word "duplicitous", which I don't think exists in the dictionary, but nevertheless... no, the United States gave the South African Government a hard time all along. Whether it was President Carter or whether it was President Reagan, it was a question of a change in emphasis and different styles, different approaches to achieve the same purpose: namely, how could apartheid go? The United States saw that also as something that could have internally, in the United States, political repercussions because of your black/white situation, which from time to time, even up to the present moment, have a tendency to arouse very strong emotional feelings.
TESSA: How were your years, then, as ambassador in Washington?
TESSA: How were the years you spent, from mid-'75 to '76 in Washington, what were relations like?
PB: I enjoyed it tremendously from the point of view of learning exactly, I think, what we could expect... what South Africa could expect from America, and what not. That I learned; and I learned that in particular as a result of the situation in Angola, when South African troops crossed the border in 1975. The South Africans didn't really know about this immediately, but in America I could see it on television every day. And then there were... the South African troops were moving northwards with great success. That episode at the time was to try and stop a potential Cuban southward movement towards Namibia; but at the same time, they were assisting UNITA and Dr. Jonas Savimbi, who was - and still is - the leader of UNITA. The United States also supported UNITA, because what happened in Angola was simply that the Portuguese Governor, you know, left his office, he vacated his office; a vacuum existed, and it was the perception that the communists then took over in Angola and invited the Cubans to consolidate their power base in Angola. Now this was seen as a threat both in South Africa, by the National Government at the time, and of course by UNITA - their reasoning was that they'd fought against the Portuguese for so many years, they now don't want to be ruled by another foreign, you know, incumbent there who could have been a worse colonial master than the former one. (Clears throat) And what happened then was that.. I phoned my Government, as ambassador from Washington, and said, "Look, whatever your purpose of going into Angola, you will have to return; because if you rely on American assistance, then I want to warn you that assistance will either be terminated or will be withdrawn, and then you stand alone." And the Foreign Minister then - anI succeeded him subsequently - was Dr. Hilgar Muller, a very kind and sensible, well-balanced man. He then asked me to phone the Prime Minof the day, Mr. John Vorster. I phoned the Prime Minister, and told him the same. And he said to me, "But look, we have the opposite information from the highest level," and that is that the United States would continue to support our effort to keep the Cubans as far north as possible. And I said to him, "Sir, I do not know what your sources are, but I'm living close to Capitol Hill; I know the senators, I know quite a number of congressmen; I know the sentiments there, and they vote the budget, and they are going to withdraw Dr. Kissinger's funds, and I warn you that you must bring this into your calculation of what we want to do in Angola, because if the Americans withdraw their support, the matter would go to the Security Council of the United Nations immediately, and we would stand alone, totally isolated, with a severe potential for sanctions or drastic measures which could then be taken against us in terms of the Charter, for breaking peace or being a threat to peace." So, the Prime Minister was surprised, to put it mildly, and said to me, "But look, there is obviously a clash here, a contradiction. I have information, and you say you know the situation. Now my information clashes with your knowledge of what you claim to be the situation. Take another day or two," he said to me, "and give me another report." So naturally I went to Capitol Hill, and you know how it is: it is not always easy to get an interview with... or a meeting with a senator or a congressman. You must wait outside the Senate sometimes for hours, and travel with them on the... those little trains, you know, from appointment to appointment; but it leaves you enough time, a minute or two, to have a brief chat with a senator. And of course, I started with the more conservative senators - I remember Senator Goldwater very well, and others - and told them straight away, I said, "Look, we are in Angola, our troops. This vote that's coming up in the Senate in December - how are you going to vote?" That was a vote brought by the son of Gene Tunney, a very f