Robert Sid Ahmed,
TESSA: Great. That's a lovely answer. Just to return to Angola, however, can you just give me your assessment of American assistance there?
PB: It's very difficult for me. I only know, as ambassador in Washington, that assistance was given to UNITA, not, as far as I know - but you can check this - to South African troops. .. America wanted to give assistance to UNITA, certainly of a military nature, and/ or financial nature. Certainly of a financial nature... certainly somewhere someone had to pay for whatever the United States wanted to send there, and those are the funds which Senator Tunney had cut off in the Senate of the United States. But what the various forms of this was, it was not my job to know that.
TESSA: Fine. ... So, you described for me how the United States cut off its funds, but what was the feeling in South Africa - was there a feeling of being abandoned, of being let down, of being surprised? What was the feeling?
PB: Yes, I think.. in certain government circles; but I did my best to rectify that by saying that "I warned you in good time." I mean, for me as ambassador, it was no surprise: I expected it, I expected it. Someone, somewhere, misjudged; someone informed the then Prime Minister of South Africa incorrectly, or conveyed to him a message which did not have the sanction, in my opinion, of the United States Government - and for me, "government" was the President, the Secretary of State, and one or two others. they formed the United States Government, and sometimes very senior and influential senators, of course, and congressmen. But be that as it may, I remember vividly that Mr. Vorster asked me to come and see him on the eve of New Year, Old Year's Day of 1975, and I flew from Washington to where he was on holiday; and he had called, you know, at the time the Minister of Defense here, the head of the defense force, and my predecessor, Dr. Muller; myself, ambassador to Washington. And I was preparing myself on the flight here the whole night, you know, to now really put a case for our troop withdrawal immediately. That was my case: I wanted our South African troops to get out of Angola immediately, because of my concern that we might be trapped there, isolated there, surrounded there, and that sort of thing. But in any case, I saw no purpose in our staying there, because we could not, you know, conquer Angola and govit - there was no way we could ever do that. It would have been silly, it would have been stupid apart from any other considerations. So I prepared myself for quite a battle at the Prime Minister's holiday residence. And when I eventually landed there, much to my relief, our military establishment agreed immediately that they should withdraw. But then the issue was requests both from the United States as well as certain African countries, important African countries, asking us to hang on, hang there until the Adis Ababa meeting, because of that possibility that a resolution could then be passed by the OAU to the effect that all foreign troops ought to be withdrawn, and that would have suited the United States and a number of African leaders very well. But as things turned out, although there was a split right in the middle, equal number, in the end, by one vote, I believe, a different resolution was carried to the effect that only South African troops had to be withdrawn. And then I exerted strong pressure from Washington on the Government to get out, which they couldn't immediately, because you know, we had there, apparently, more troops than I ever thought, and they had now to come back in good order, and that can't happen in two hours. And I was on the phone continuously from Washington because there was a Security Council meeting scheduled to discuss the very presence of our troops there, and to discuss and take action on the OAU decision that South African troops had to be withdrawn. And I knew the Security Council - I addressed it more than seven times - I knew what was going to happen: that animal was going to eat up and become angry. So I took the unusual step of even contacting a representative of the Soviet Union, and said to this representative, "Look, quite bluntly, we are going to leave. What can you now gain from stampeding the Security Council in more severe resolutions against the South African Government? You're just going to make things worse. And in my efforts to get our troops withdrawn as fast as possible, you're making it more difficult. If you don't adopt this aggressive attitude in the Security Council, I guarantee you we will withdraw; but we have practical difficulties, and all I'm asking you is, no favors, but I would ask you also, in the interests of what I would regard Soviet responsibility globally, not to make a mess of this." And, much to my surprise, although the person was originally quite aggressive an hour or two later I did get a phone call to say to me, "
TESSA: Very interesting indeed. Can you give me your assessment of the South African assistance in Angola?
TESSA: Very interesting indeed. Can you give me your assessment of the South African assistance in Angola?
PB: I do not know the size of the force that went in.
TESSA: Was it a success?
PB: Yes and no. You know, it is very difficult to judge with hindsight. You must first ask yourself... I wasn't a part of that decision, but when that decision was taken, what were the facts as perceived by the South African Government of the day? A) the United States, at the highest level, requested assist France, or rather requests South Africa to go in and assist UNITA. Secondly, this would stop the Cubans from moving further southwards. (Coughs) Now, just on those two points, you must agree that it was of major importance that those steps had to be taken. You must ask yourself: if the steps were not taken... and the United States Government then turned against South Africa, on top of everything else, and if the Cubans then succeeded in moving southward, that would have been devastating. (Coughs) Excuse me.
TESSA: Don't worry.
PB: I hope you can cut this out.
TESSA: Of course.
(More coughing. Cut.)
TESSA: So could we just resume. Could you give me your assessment really of South African assistance in Angola?
PB: Yes. As I said, it's often very difficult with hindsight to judge a situation. But.. at that time, imagine the Prime Minister of South Africa believing that the United States, at the highest level, would wish assistance to be given to UNITA. Funds were flowing from the United States to UNITA. In what form, I can't say, but there were funds. And secondly, South Africa... in general, the South African Government, fearing this threat of Cuban penetration coming into the region... for the first time since the Cold War started, you had the introduction of foreign hostile troops in the southern Africa region. So, against that background, it would have been very difficult for the government of the day, in my opinion, to take a different decision. (Clears throat) What was wrong, in my opinion, was a misunderstanding of the level at which this assistance was requested, and a misunderstanding or an ignorance or a lack of knowledge on the part of the South African Government of the internal problems within the United States to get involved in disputes or conflicts of this nature, after Vietnam and other events. (Clears throat) Had the South African Government known this, it might have taken a different decision: it might have taken a decision which would perhaps not have sent the troops across the border, but just put them on the border of Namibia, this side, or something like that, to make clear that we would not countenance any crossing of the border, and therefore a direct threat to South African security, as it was perceived. But I want to repeat: it's always easier after an event, you know, to criticize it or to have different views. It's a totally different matter to be confronted, in the heat of the moment, with a threat. And when that is your only information, the human being is like that: mistakes can be made.
TESSA: You mentioned a high-level request from the United States to South Africa to intervene to assist in Angola. Can you tell me about that?
PB: Yes. All I can tell you is what the Prime Minister of the day told me when I was ambassador in Washington, and he said to me, "But..." He used to call me Puck, you see... "Puck, but are you not aware of this request?" And I said, "No, not at all. It was certainly not routed through me." And then Mr. Vorster paused for a moment on the telephone, and was really taken aback. He was almost... I got the impression that he was dissatisfied with my response, that he thought that I was not doing my job in Washington, that... he was so certain of the message that he received, or the assurance, that he took it amiss that I somehow could be that ignorant because I warned him that the funds would be cut off, and he couldn't believe it. His first reaction was that "No, I don't believe you." And that's when he sent me back to school and said, "Look, I think you'd better spend another day or two on Capitol Hill, and then report back to me." So... but I can assure you yet again that.. I don't believe it came in the form Mr. Vorster received it from the United States President or from the State Department. Of that I am pretty much convinced.
TESSA: While you were in Washington, did you have any dealings with the CIA in discussions over Angola...
TESSA: ... or in the State Department?
PB: No, not at all. No contact whatsoever. My contacts were on the Hill, because I knew, you know, where the decisions are made. I knew that if a majority in the Senate voted, you know, as they did, that was it. I had contact with Senator Tunney, yes; I invited some of his aides for lunch in Massachusetts Avenue, where my Embassy was, and wanted to know exactly how they assessed the situation. It is always better to talk to your opposition and try and come to an agreement with them when you deal with matters which might erupt into conflict. I've learned it's always better.
TESSA: Who took the Cold War to Africa?
TESSA: Who took the Cold War to Africa?
PB: Well, the obvious answer is that it must have been the Soviet Union. But I also think, and I believe, that the Soviet Union was very sensitive, was very sensitive to the dangers ofgetting too much involved in Africa. It was not a terrain known to them; Africa was a strange continent to them, far away, and I don't think that they knew the Africans at all, that they knew African culture and styles and, I don't think they knew it. They were rendering assistance, yes, to African states, very often, in my opinion, to the detriment of those states; because I do not know how many power stations of Russian origins still function on the African continent; I do not know how successful were the university colleges or the irrigation projects or the roads or the railway lines or the ports. My impression is, notvery successful. Be that as it may, Africa did not really, not to the same extent as other parts of the world, experience the... what shall we call it?... the anger and fallout of the Cold War.
TESSA: Why did the decolonization of Africa threaten South Africa?
PB: No, I don't believe that threatened South Africa as such. it was inevitable, it had to come. I remember vividly that as a young foreign affairs official, I was surprised at a Belgian representative of the United Nations in the Fifties, early Fifties, saying that the Belgian Congo would not be independent for another 30 to 40 years. I was amazed, because I knew that there was no way that Belgium would be able to last in the Belgian Congo that long; and ever since that time there has been problems, of course, in Zaire. Maybe it is too huge, too large to be governed by one central government, and should have had more provincial power. I do not know - I don't want to go into that matter today, but certainly Zaire is paying a price today for what was originally conceived to be a strong central government in the country not allowing, in my opinion, for sufficient diversity in your provinces and more provincial autonomy in matters affecting the people within a province more directly. again, decolonization was inevitable. I mean, after all, my forefathers fought the hardest battle, a three-year war against the British Empire, and we had, you know, over 50,000 troops, and I think Britain half a million. Even by today's standards, that was a major war, and that was to keep the colonizer away. So basically, the tragedy is that the Afrikaner, which ought to have been the leader also, almost, in the decolonization process, wasn't that leader, and African states then perceived white South Africa almost also as colonialists, which is a pity. But I found, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, wherever I went in Africa, that there was a deep understanding and appreciation for the Afrikaners of South Africa and for the whites of South Africa. I seldom came across an African leader who didn't express the appreciation for what this section of the African people also have done ... we regard ourselves as Africans, white Africans... appreciation for the roads that were built here, the clinics. It was Barnard, after all, who transplanted the first human heart here. We have great achievements in veterinary science, I mean, providing African states and countries with vaccines; great experts, I believe, in road building, airport building; our ports are running well; telecommunications. We are training our own veterinary surgeons, our own doctors, our own engineers, our own teachers, our own construction workers, whilst in the rest of Africa the colonial powers never did it. It was always French or German or Belgian, and Africans had to go to European universities. That's why you don't have outstanding universities or great hospitals or... the reason was, the Africans were taken to Europe. And there are no internal banks: the banks are European or British or American. Everything is from outside, whilst here in South Africa it's inside, the development was inside. And this is what gives us hope now, and that is that South Africa, under the new government, can indeed play this role of not only assisting southern Africa, but maybe radiate then to the rest of Africa a new hope of a new beginning, and a more rational approach, to get America and the Europeans to start looking at Africa also with new eyes.
TESSA: You described to me how in the mid-Seventies... just one more question on this theme... in the mid-Seventies, South Africa was isolated. Was it possible that she saw herself as a sort of bastion of Western values within Africa?
PB: What are really Western values in the end, if you come to think of it? values, yes, values must have an economic, social, moral content, and they can be shared, whether you are Western or not. It is not a Western monopoly, these values: you will find them in all countries where you have successful industrial development and democracies, irrespective of whether the country is Western or not. So I'm a little bit (Sighs) inhibited, you know, to think that there should be a monopoly when it comes to values. Africa also has values which Europe doesn't have. In Africa you will find tremendous compassion in human relations; you will find an appreciation of beauty in Africa and of intimate family relations, and families looking after each other as no Europeans are doing whatever, and so forth. So there are also values. What I'm trying to say is South Africa is quite far advanced due to the combined effort of both blacks and whites; that they need each other. I used to say we are like a zebra: if you put a bullet into the black stripe or the white stripe, the animal will die. It's... South Africa is where it is today as a result of the combined, joint effort by both white Africans and black Africans in this country. This is a good mix. And if we can overcome now the recriminations and animosities of the past, then there is nothing that can hold this country back from becoming a model in democracy, where opposing forces originally, opposing forces from the Cold War era, virtually drove this country into a major conflict. Luckily, with God's help and grace, we avoided it, and now the way is open for erstwhile opponents and enemies to forget the past and become a model, a model of co-operation, of advancement, of creating opportunities for the less, less advantaged of our people, who are the majority, and hopefully then the United States and the other industrialized nations will also, with respect, you know, assist us economically and otherwise. Because you can have the most beautiful Constitution, which I think we have a good one; you can have the best democratic ideals, [but] we need economic development at a faster rate, if also the ideal of the United States is to succeed here. I took it the United States would wish South Africa to be successful in democracy in the first instance, because that is the interest of the United States worldwide. Worldwide, that is your interest: is that democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and certain basic, fundamental civil rights, must survive to keep the human spirit free, and in that freedom you see your security through the ages. I agree with that. Now, we say: you wanted South Africa to get rid of apartheid. We did. You wanted South Africa to move peacefully into a democratic era. We did. Now we ask, I ask the United States and Europe and the others: after all that you've done and wished, now what do you do to ensure that these democracy succeeds?
TESSA: Very good. My last question. How did the end of the Cold War affect the situation here in South Africa?
PB: Tremendously, yes. But as I explained to you earlier...
TESSA: Can I ask you just to start that answer again, saying, "The end of the Cold War affected the situation tremendously"? We had a light problem.
PB: Yes. The end of the Cold War certainly sped up the dramatic events in this country; but they were preceded, the discussions and negotiations with the ANC, which started in 1990, by the agreement we signed in '88, on the independence of Namibia and the removal of the Cuban troops. Now, also, if that was part of the Cold War, which it was, then it started already then for us. That paved the way for Namibia's independence; that made it possible, in my opinio, to reduce tension here. I could, for instance, say to the Cubans, when we were at loggerheads, and we were often... I could say to them, "Look... you say you want to increase your troops there. Then we'll increase our troops there, and more people will die; it'll cost more money. We will delay the eventual solution." And he then said to me, "But what is that solution?" And I said, "We could both be a winner." And this senior Cuban delegate was amazed at my statement, and he said, "How?" And I said to him, "Well, look, you go back to Cuba, and your leader, Castro, can claim that you fought for the independence of Namibia. I go back and I tell the whites that I got rid of the Cubans. A win-win situation. And between you and m, that did it."
TESSA: That's wonderful. Thank you very much, thank you very much indeed - that was lovely.