Nongqai blog S.A. Police Security Branch SAP SB series part3 cover

ABSTRACT: Third extract from NONGQAI’s eBook on the South African Police Security Branch and the armed struggle launched by the SACP/ANC-alliance. This episode explains the complex history of South Africa’s internal conflict. Was “Apartheid” South Africa uniquely racist, in the world colonial context? What was the role of white South Africa’s security and intelligence community in the transition to a non-racial democracy?

KEYWORDS: South African Police Security Branch (SAP-SB); SACP/ANC-Alliance, uMkhonto weSizwe; Nelson Mandela; National Intelligence Service; Dr Niël Barnard, FW de Klerk; PW Botha; Apartheid; South Africa’s transition to democracy

AUTHORS: Brig (ret) HB Heymans & Dr WP Steenkamp




The history of South Africa is a complex one. Principally because of its multi-ethnic demographics. It is a fact that shifts in political power, coupled with tribal affiliations (the ever-present “call of the blood”), over its existence greatly influenced public perceptions of the S.A. Police Security Branch (SAP-SB). These perceptions varied considerably from one regime to another, as well as in terms of the views of it held by different population groups at different times. Particularly as promoted in different language segments of the South African press, over the course of the Branch’s existence.

What cannot be denied, and should therefore not be tip-toed around, is that perceptions of the SAP-SB (like everything and everybody else in South Africa) were hugely impacted by the three great conflicts that had marked the country’s history. First came the struggle between white settler and brown and black indigenous populations, from 1652 to 1803. Then from 1806 to1990 the conflict among the white population groups (the white regimes being first the Dutch East India Company, then the British Empire, followed by the Union of South Africa and eventually the white Republic’s security forces).

Intertwined with this, was the often bloody and emotion-drenched conflict between the British and the Boers / Afrikaners, from 1806 to 1961 and beyond (being the struggle that  most marked, also for the longest period, the political history of the eventual Union and later Republic of South Africa).

Lastly, there’s the reality of the power struggles between different non-white tribes. Starting with the Bushmen who, after millennia of having had the veldt and its animals to themselves, suffered the invasion of the pastoral Khoi people moving down from North-East Africa, and naming the Bushmen “San” (meaning thieves). Then the Khoi in turn facing the migration south of the Bantu peoples from West-Central Africa, as well as the arrival during the middle part of the previous millennium of whites coming ashore in the South-West. The Bantu tribes also suffered their quota of conflicts, going back to the Mfecane massacres by the Zulus of surrounding tribes during the early 19th century, through  to the intense and bloody conflicts from 1990 to 1995 between the then Xhosa-dominated ANC and the Zulu Inkatha movement, and flaring up again in July 2021 in the death and destruction wrought by the “Zuma unrest”.

It was the perennial Boer / Brit political conflict, as played out in battle upon the veldt, as well as in parliament but especially in the media, which was to have the most significant impact on how the SAP-SB was portrayed. Particularly when looking at before and after 1948. With the change in the political landscape that year, the manner of portrayal of the SAP-SB in the English-language press changed 180 degrees, even though the SAP-SB officers as such didn’t change. They were still the same predominantly Afrikaner police detectives who had loyally served the pro-neutrality “Fusion” government of Genl. Barry Hertzog till September 1939, and then the pro-war government of Field Marshal Jan Smuts up to the 1948 election. Subsequently, from 1948 on, the new National Party government of Dr. D.F. Malan – doing so in the best tradition of being apolitical public servants who served the state and not the politicians who were in power on the day.

However important the role of the SAP-SB may have been during WW2 in countering Nazi sympathies, if one is to be realistic, it is the subsequent portrayal of the SAP-SB as an oppressive force bent on racist white Afrikaner nationalist domination, that needs to be at the heart of any modern assessment of its role and legacy.

But was racism in South Africa significantly different to that experienced by “non-whites” in other British colonies?


Comparing South Africa’s broader colonial history to the experience suffered by non-white indigenous populations across the globe during the era of European imperialism, is informative. This comparison is necessary, because the basic assumption underpinning much of the criticism (if not downright propaganda?) directed against the last white SA government as it had evolved through and out of the colonial era, was that it was uniquely evil. With the SAP-SB being portrayed and condemned as its principal tool of oppression, dedicated to maintaining racial supremacy because of supposed inherent “national-socialist” i.e., Nazi, tendencies after 1948.

But does the evidence truly bear out that the white South African governments – when compared to and contextualised within the panoply of colonial governments that had at one stage ruled most of the peoples of the “Third World” – was truly (and uniquely) evil? Especially when judged by real outcomes and hard statistics? (Nobody in his or her right mind, and of proper moral values, will today defend European imperialism and the race-based oppression that went with it, and this article certainly isn’t an attempt to do so – especially given my own Afrikaner / Irish heritage as author).

Yes, South Africa’s transition out of colonialism was unique – but in many ways positively so, with eventually far better outcomes for its non-white population than elsewhere. Other colonial liberation struggles were fought against an imperial authority seated in an overseas metropolis, from whom independence had to be wrested. In South Africa’s case, however, Africa’s so-called white tribe, the Afrikaners, had already wrested that sovereign independence from the British Empire in 1961 (as recognised by the United Nations and fellow Africans in the Lusaka Manifesto). 

This means that what followed after 1961, was in essence an internal struggle for political power and for racial equality, not independence. Nevertheless, the colonial legacy and the Boer vs Brit emotional baggage of that unique earlier Afrikaner struggle for independence, had continued to impact also the post-1961 era (the Boer / Brit situation had seen parallels only in Ireland: namely one of an indigenous white tribe that had been locked in intense political struggle against another white tribe, the imperial English one, that had conquered and settled its ancestral land by military force, dominating its economy and media).

This ongoing Boer / Brit struggle within white politics gave rise to an unfortunate but lasting and perception-forming issue of terminology. This happened when the Afrikaner nationalist constitutional initiative of separate development (intended to “unscramble” the colonial legacy by re-constituting the pre-colonial ethnic states), became internationally known by its emotive Afrikaans name: “Apartheid”. Which seemed to carry, in the English language, the significance of “apart” and “hate”.

The most important dimension of the uniqueness of the South African situation, when compared with what had been the lot of indigenous peoples elsewhere in especially the Anglophone colonial world, is revealed by the incontrovertible demographic statistics.  In terms of the 1911 census, whites then made up 21.34% of the population of the nascent Union of South Africa. That has now dropped to only 8.4%, meaning that the other population groups have flourished demographically under white rule.

Black numbers, for example, have risen from 67.2% of the population in 1911, to currently 80.2%.

This stands in absolutely stark contrast with the lot of the Aboriginal population of Australia, as well as with that of the Amerindian populations of Canada and the USA, and even the indigenous populations of Latin America, during the era of white domination there. Those indigenous populations were for all practical purposes, dispossessed and wiped out – in a very deliberate, systematic manner which today would have qualified as genocide.

By contrast, there was no policy in South Africa that had set out, or which had the practical effect, of essentially wiping out the local indigenous populations – as had tragically and undeniably happened in the former British possessions in the Americas and Australasia, leaving those lands in white hands. On the contrary, the data about South Africa clearly shows that the local black population had, numerically, gone from strength to strength – also and particularly in the era of “Apartheid”.

Take just the crucial matter of health care – Dr. Kgosi Letlape, who is black and who recently left the position of president of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), has repeatedly stated publicly that the health care system for all citizens was significantly better under Apartheid than now, with it then having been better even than the current private health care. (Again, which serves not to deny the extremely hurtful and harmful consequences that racist European colonialism and “Apartheid” in South Africa, had held for non-white populations).   

Nevertheless, does the statistical scoreboard thus verily speak of a uniquely racist, evil white regime in South Africa?

There was also no policy of suppressing indigenous culture, such as perpetrated for example by the anglicizing “residential schools” to which indigenous children ripped from their parents were forcibly consigned, in the USA, Canada and Australia. Leading to shocking abuse and thousands of child deaths, only now being admitted to.

Nongqai blog SAP SB series part3 map Canada native schools

On the contrary, indigenous culture was actively fostered in South Africa, with own mother-tongue universities being built and the local British legacy of impoverished, scattered native “reservations” (that still today blight the USA, Canada and Australia), being set to be developed here into proper homelands (on the model of Lesotho, Botswana and Mswati). Which “homelands” now largely form the basis of the New South Africa’s provinces.

Stating this, does not deny that the erstwhile Apartheid homelands policy had in practice utterly failed as a constitutional solution for South Africa’s ethnic conundrum, by reason of having been a real-world impossibility within a fast-growing economy in an era of growing globalization and urbanisation, and being at heart still race-based and not truly ethnic (speaking of “white” SA but black tribes and without homeland solutions for the Indian and “Coloured” populations).

During the Cold War that followed upon the Second World War, notions of racial supremacy (as exemplified by the Nazis) had internationally become anathema and colonialism was seen in the war-weary West as a burden. Non-white populations (that had fought on the side of the Allies, such as from India and the Gold Coast) were demanding their independence and winning it – in India already in 1947, thanks to the passive resistance campaign that had been led by Mahatma Gandhi. Also in Africa, the “uhuru” wave was sweeping down the continent.

The fact that black resistance to white rule in South Africa had systematically increased after WW2, was thus not primarily due to some truly evil “new” form of racism having suddenly been foisted upon blacks in 1948, which consequently had “hardened” their resolve. Yes, age-old discriminatory practices were indeed codified by the National party government into actual, hurtful laws.

But what increasingly inspired non-whites (more than anything else), was the growing list of examples of successful struggles for liberation as waged against colonial/white rule, by the likes of the Mau-Mau in Kenya, as well as in Algeria, Indo-China and eventually the former Portuguese territories in Southern Africa and Rhodesia. The case oof Rhodesia is instructive. It had persisted with the British race-based colonial traditions and never had an Afrikaans government using the Afrikaans word “apartheid”, but had of course been the object of its own freedom struggle, on a much more bloody and destructive scale than South Africa itself had ever experienced. Thus, Rhodesia gives the lie to the proposition that “Apartheid” had been the unique cause of black dissatisfaction and resistance.

Even had the most liberal white party in South Africa come to power in 1948, and not the Afrikaner Nationalists, then the struggle for complete non-racial equality would still have occurred – because it is an incontrovertible fact that not even the most liberal party in the erstwhile white South African parliament had stood for one-man-on-vote, till the National Party of President FW de Klerk accepted that principle at the beginning of the 1990’s (which is why the ANC-MK also bombed, for example, offices of the Progressive Party).


It is utterly ludicrous to pretend that racism had emerged in South Africa only in 1948, as a product of uniquely evil intentions and policies of the Afrikaner Nationalist government elected that year (their main focus was, actually, on restoring a republic, free of British ties – which of course explains the English animosity to them).

The preceding cornerstone race laws were the same ones that had applied across the breadth of the British Empire, which in South Africa took the form of the 1913 land act that had robbed blacks of most of their land, the 1936 native affairs act that regulated black lives as 2nd class citizens, and the 1945 black urban areas management act – with the odious laws against inter-racial liaisons actually having been the first laws that the British had seen fit to put on the statute books in the Free State and Transvaal after they had conquered those two erstwhile Boer republics in 1899-1902 (the USA versions of these self-same prohibitions on inter-race marriages were only declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1966).

The elevation of 1948 into propaganda prominence as if the birth date of racism in South Africa, is a transparent attempt to try and pin colonial racism on the Afrikaner people. It was a political propaganda consequence of what had in earlier times been termed to be South Africa’s principal “race problem”: namely, the struggle for political supremacy between the “Boer race” and the “British race”. It is no more than a fallacious attempt to pin all blame on the Afrikaner scapegoat, with little regard for historic fact.

Another early example of such an Anglo myth, is that the Afrikaner’s Great Trek out of the Cape Colony (after its military conquest in 1806 by the British), was supposedly due to the British eventually having abolished slavery – thus psychologically trying to tie the Afrikaner to the racist Confederate States of the American Civil War, which latter was fought over the abolition of slavery…

Of course, the Trek could not possibly have been due to the Trekkers simply not liking being ruled by their new imperial British overlords, could it? Just as “right-thinking” Irish could not imaginably have desired to be free of Albion’s benevolent embrace? (The English jingo press is historically good at labelling opponents of imperial desires, such as trying to portray the conflict in Northern Ireland as being between “Catholics and Protestants”, as if religious in origin, while it was and is clearly between Irish republicans and British unionists – the Irish rebel forces never called themselves the “Irish Catholic Army”, but the IRA – the Irish Republican Army).

This Anglo myth about the Trek does not mention that the republican Boers had actually declared themselves independent from the Dutch East India Company even before the 1st British invasion of the Cape had sunk that republican initiative (the short-lived Swellendam Republic). Neither does it own up to the fact that slavery had already been proscribed at the Cape (no new slaves could be imported, and all children born to slaves were born free) under the libertarian, non-racial Batavian Republic of 1803 – 1806, which had preceded the 2nd British invasion.

Nor does it mention that the local Cape forces of Boer dragoons, Hottentot infantry and free Malay artillery had defended that republican dispensation (the first non-racial democracy on African soil, with its equal voting and religious rights, regardless of race), tooth and nail against the British invaders at the battle of Blaauwberg – with the Brits actually having vainly resorted to trying to curry favour with the rebellious Boers by bandying about promises of restoring slavery, as part of their scrapping of all the “poisonous” libertarian Batavian ideas stemming from the French Revolution.

Whereas the Boers had so liked those republican French notions that they had based their own later republics on the Batavian model. (The aspect of the eventual British abolition of slavery that had truly irked at the Cape, was the solemn promise the British had made of paying market-value compensation – which it then transpired had to be claimed in London, via an agent that kept most of the proceeds! An op-ed by Harvard History professor Maya Jasanoff, published in The New Yorker on 26 October 2020 under the title “Misremembering the British Empire” deals specifically with Britain’s abolition of slavery and the compensation offered; it is based on investigations by the University College London’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership: “Its researchers have shown that government payouts to slaveowners following emancipation seeded fortunes inherited by generations of bankers…” and thus “…has wrinkled the sanctimonious tale of British abolitionism.“)

If the Boers had trekked because they didn’t want slavery to be abolished, would it not be logical to expect that they would then have immediately re-instituted slavery, the instant they had established their own new republics in the interior? Of course, they never re-instituted slavery!

In fact, one-third of the 100 Trekker men who died at the hands of Zulu king Dingane when he assassinated the Trekker leader Piet Retief and his delegation, were people of colour. As were 1/3 of the women and children subsequently killed by Zulu impis at Blaauwkrantz. Equally, a large contingent of the Trekker fighting men that then defeated Dingane at the battle of Blood River, were men of colour. The state secretary of the Great Trek – its principal scribe, whose writings had inspired many of those who joined the Trek – was a man of colour, who later became the secretary of the Transvaal (ZAR) parliament, as well as Postmaster-General of the ZAR: Mr. Jan Bantjes.

This isn’t a denial of a valid core truth contained in today’s “single story” about the Afrikaner, namely that from early days there were indeed a racist Afrikaner faction (such as initially represented by Adam Tas) and which eventually, after WW2, had come to dominate Afrikanerdom for four crucial decades. That, alas, is true.

But there is another story about the Afrikaner as well – one without which, the whole story cannot be complete. It is a side of the Afrikaner’s story that the previous government itself had tried its best to suppress, in favour of their equally false myth of a pure white race. That truth relates to the undeniable reality that today, a far larger proportion of the people of Southern Africa who speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue, are “coloured”, not white.

Where did they come from? (The DNA shows us that, on the maternal side with mitochondrial analysis, preponderantly from the original indigenous Cape female population, but on the paternal side through Y-chromosome analysis, in large part from the Cape male population of European descent; the vast majority of Afrikaners classified as “white” under Apartheid, had significant “non-white DNA, inherited on maternal side from slave women and indigenous “volksmoeders” / mothers of the nation).

It is one of the unique features of the “white” Afrikaners that they had adopted the language of the common man, the people of colour, as their own. Deliberately abandoning the Dutch language of their European forebears. This total cultural identification with their new African fatherland, even to the point of adopting a new language (aptly named Afrikaans), did not happen anywhere else in the colonised world – not with the French, Spanish, Portuguese, or English that had settled in the Americas.

What was further unique about the Afrikaner, was the fact that they were practically the only descendants of European settlers anywhere in the world, who were in turn brutally colonised by force of arms by another European power – the British Empire – when luck would have it that their independent republics were found to be sitting atop the world’s then richest gold and diamond deposits.

Nearly 28,000 Boer women and children and 12,000 blacks associated with the Boers, died in detention in British concentration camps, with the casualties among the Boer women and children almost twice as many as that suffered by Boer combatants on the battlefield (14,000).

As we shall show in detail in a later chapter analysing the comparative statistics, this total of 42,000 Afrikaner deaths suffered over two and a half years of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, constituting 15% of the Boer population of the two republics, was more than twice the total number of deaths (20,500) that was suffered during 35 years of internal conflict that preceded South Africa’s transformation into a non-racial democracy in 1994. By far the greatest death rate per capita in the struggle against European imperialism in 20th century Africa, as well as the largest total number of lives lost in any liberation struggle in South Africa, was thus actually suffered by the Boers, not by Blacks.

This experience had savagely marked the Afrikaner mind (in similar fashion to the Jewish experience of the Holocaust) leaving the deep-seated determination to never again allow such a brutal subjugation to occur – which psychologically played a crucial part in the fear of, and resistance against, what was seen as a similarly ominous existential threat: namely, that posed by international communism (especially given the adherents of that ideology’s own history of brutal suppression).

Again, this is not to claim that there wasn’t a blatantly racist faction present in white Afrikaner ranks, from way back even. Certainly, the afore-mentioned Dutch immigrant to the early Cape, Adam Tas, was quite virulent as leader of such a movement (perhaps heightened by his conflict with Governor W.A. van der Stel, son of the Cape’s most famous governor, Simon van der Stel, who incidentally was a man of colour, since his mother was the daughter of a freed slave from Goa on the coast of India).

Fact is, though, that the racist faction didn’t hold sway at the Old Cape during the two centuries of Dutch rule. Some 1,600 of the early marriages registered there, were between European men and women of colour, mostly freed slaves. The church would not marry such a couple unless the slave woman had been duly freed (manumitted). Accordingly, the true societal distinction was not founded on race, but on whether couples had been formally “churched” or had simply engaged in an informal relationship. The Dutch East India Company as such had no care about race, since they were single-mindedly intent upon making money (the Cape was unique in that it was a colonial settlement run by a commercial venture, and not set up by some imperial government or crown).

It was only late in the 19th century, with the British in control of the Cape, that the blatantly racist faction within Afrikanerdom came to exercise influence in institutions such as the Dutch Reformed Church (only in 1881 was the church split along racial lines, with a “mission church” established to cater to non-white faithful; this only happened after many church minsters had for many years strongly opposed separating their mixed congregations). 

It appears that (just as the Afrikaner had adopted British inventions such as the game of rugby and tried to beat the British at it), in the middle 20th century the racist Afrikaner faction undeniably tried to outdo the Anglo politics of racial identity. Those Afrikaner politicians pushed it to odious extremes, legalising its strictures as statutorily ordained determinants of the social order, with laws codifying petty measures of physical separation in a highly hurtful and discriminatory manner – as the late FW de Klerk acknowledged in his parting video message.

Those overtly racist Afrikaner politicians were, however, not alone in doing this at that time – in the USA racial segregation was also very much enforced, until the Supreme Court there stepped in to de-legitimise it in the late sixties. Here are some photos to illustrate those similarities between the pre-Civil Rights USA and South Africa:

Nongqai blog SAP SB series part3  Jim Crow sign USA1
Nongqai blog SAP SB series part3  Jim Crow sign USA2
Nongqai blog SAP SB series part3  Jim Crow sign USA3

In Australia as well, the so-called “White Australia” policy was in effect for the first six decades of the 20th century, i.a. prohibiting immigration by non-whites.

The fine-tuning of the existing racial segregation in South Africa after the 1948 election, was again deeply tied to the Boer / Brit political power struggle of that time. The Nationalists had won the most seats in that election, but not the popular vote. For that reason, they embarked on a set of parliamentary and legal machinations to remove the Coloured voters in the Cape from the voter’s rolls, fearing that the English-language opposition may appeal to this growing group of voters.

This had not been the Afrikaner Nationalist outlook in the 1920’s, when the then Nationalist prime minister, Genl. Barry Hertzog, had had legislation drafted to fully integrate the so-called “coloured” population into the constitutional system (which would have removed the “white vs. non-white” racial element from the constitution).

This unfortunately came to nought, because of the furore that had erupted in parliament at that time about the issue of the design of the Union flag (again, the Boer / Brit struggle), which drowned out all other policy matters, next to be overtaken by the crisis caused by the Great Depression.


Another propaganda myth encapsulated in the “single story” about the Afrikaner (as if they are a tribe of identical clones), is that “the Afrikaners” en masse had supported Adolf Hitler and that the Nationalist Party election victory in 1948 thus had put “neo-Nazis” into power. Yes, there certainly were adherents of Nazism – nobody should try to deny that. But, as in Ireland, the main driving force among those Afrikaners opposed to the war was anti-imperial republicanism.

Just as was the case in the USA before Pearl Harbor, there existed among many Afrikaners in 1939 a strong antipathy against participating in another European war, preferring neutrality. This was also the position of the Republic of Ireland, which remained neutral through-out WW2 (without anybody seriously suggesting that the Irish were closet Nazis).

In fact, it has been calculated that 68% of the South African volunteer soldiers who went North to fight against the Axis, were Afrikaners. Many leading Afrikaners saw it as a moral imperative that Hitler had to be stopped, by force of arms (my own great-uncle, Dr. W.P. Steenkamp, as member of parliament had made a renowned speech supporting the declaration of war on moral grounds, since he was well aware of who and what Hitler was – this despite carrying a British bayonet wound in the buttocks from the 2nd Anglo-Boer War).

When the German Abwehr launched their Operation Weissdorn, smuggling famous South African Olympic boxer Robey Leibbrandt into South Africa to start a rebellion, he had first approached the then National Party leadership as well as that of the activist cultural movement the Ossewa-Brandwag. However, he was cold-shouldered, so that he eventually tried to set up his own “National Socialist Rebels” – a complete failure, which soon led to his arrest by the SAP-SB.

Joe Slovo, SA Communist Party and ANC-MK leader, had fought with the South African forces in Italy during WW2. About racist attitudes among his fellow soldiers, he observed in his Unpublished Biography, on p. 29, that: “…experience taught me that this type of gut feeling was not just an Afrikaner syndrome; if anything, the purse lipped racism of the English gentlemen from Natal was more irreversible.”

The 1948 election in South Africa, which saw the opposition National Party unexpectedly win, was as such no outlier: Churchill himself had lost the U.K. elections. In 1949, the opposition New Zealand National Party won their election, and the same happened that year in Australia, with a cgange in government there as well. The voters of the Commonwealth had not suddenly turned Nazi by ousting their wartime leaders, and neither did that happen in South Africa, where the same post-war socio-economic forces and discontentment were at play, augmented by the republican aspirations of many Afrikaners.

What perhaps best gives the lie to the notion that the new Nationalist Afrikaner government of 1948 were Nazis (and not merely Afrikaner nationalist, who – like their Irish counterparts – were seeking a republic), is the history of South Africa’s strong support for the new state of Israel, born amidst the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948-49.

James Adams, a British journalist not sympathetic to the then Afrikaner government, wrote in his book Unnatural Allies that in 1948: “…in a gesture of solidarity … (Afrikaner Nationalist Prime Minister) Malan immediately offered financial and logistical support to Israel. South Africa was also the first country formally to recognise Israel after its foundation on 24 May 1948, and Malan was eventually to be the first foreign head of government to visit there. Even before this, South Africa had made considerable efforts to smuggle food, medical supplies, money, arms, uniforms, fighter aircraft and two Bonanza transports to the Zionist insurgent force… According to an official Israeli account of the time, South Africa ‘contributed more to the Israeli war effort, in terms of skilled volunteers, than any other country in the world’.

Adams further recounts: “…in 1948 the Nationalist government granted the Jewish community the unique privilege of being allowed to export funds to Israel.

This support for and cooperation with Israel was to go from strength to strength and blossomed particularly under the leadership of Prime Minister B.J. Vorster (who had been interned without trial during WW2 for his opposition to South Africa’s participation in the war and had thus been portrayed in the English-language media as an active Nazi supporter). Adams writes that, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Vorster government allowed emergency funds of $20.5million to be transferred to Israel and that: “Arms and aircraft were also shipped from South Africa to replace damaged equipment“. In April 1976 Vorster undertook a week-long official visit to Israel at the invitation of the Israeli government, which was “remarkably successful“, according to Adams.

Nongqai blogSAP SB series part3 PM John Vorster in Israel 1976

Prime Minster John Vorster meeting in Israel with top government leaders, 1976.

To understand this long-standing affinity between Afrikaners and Israelis, it should be noted that both had had to fight British imperialism for their independence (the U.K. only recognised Israel in 1950). Both had suffered in concentration camps, and both peoples felt themselves existentially under threat, surrounded and isolated within hostile environments.

Which begs the question: why did many white ANC / SACP members of South African Jewish origin feel that security policemen were “anti-Jewish”, based on their ancestry having been brought up under interrogation?

Policemen typically deal with empirical reality, and it was a simple statistical fact that most (by far) of the white members of the SACP, were indeed of Jewish origin. Just as much of the ANC leadership of the time were of Xhosa descent, without a policeman recognising that reality thereby being suspected of being anti-Xhosa.

The South African Jewish community was in fact quite distinct, in international terms. Because some 90% of them were Litvaks, from the area of Eastern Europe centred on present-day Lithuania. They were thus, origin-wise, much more homogenous than, say, the Jewish community in the USA.  But like any tribe, they also had their non-conformists.

Whilst the large majority were true to their faith and the Zionist cause, strongly supporting Israel (as recorded above) there existed a small minority who were not culturally or religiously part of the Litvak mainstream, and who were thus socially alienated – and not accepted into the other white communities (English and Afrikaans) either.

To them, the SACP offered a home, a space where they could feel that they do belong and matter. This was attested to by SACP leader Raymond Suttner: “(The SACP) offered community, human contact, the warmth and solidarity otherwise absent from their daily lives”. Ray Alexander, another leading communist of the era, wrote: “The party was to me everything. Because it’s from the party that I began to organise and develop myself to a full human being.”

This distinction between South African Litvaks who were Zionist and those that were communist, was underscored by Karina Simonson (Litvaks in South Africa: How to photograph Nelson Mandela”) , with reference to the unveiling of a plaque in 2013 by Mark Weinberg commemorating his grandfather, who was famous for a photograph he had taken of Nelson Mandela: “…after the official end of apartheid in 1990 it has become fashionable among Jewish South Africans to share in the limelight of activists and heroes from the past who fought against racism and apartheid. When unveiling a plaque in Johannesburg acknowledging a Jewish family of Lithuanian origin–the Weinbergs–and their contribution to the antiapartheid struggle, Mark Weinberg, grandson of Litvak photographer Eli Weinberg said, ‘I’m very proud and grateful of my heritage, which includes elements of selfless service to the broader movement in the broader context’. However, he stated that there was no need to tie the Weinberg legacy with Judaism: ‘We reject outright the efforts of Zionists in South Africa to enhance their credibility by presenting themselves as custodians of the antiapartheid struggle by claiming the acts of comrades with Jewish ancestry. In fact, we Weinbergs have been atheists for many generations’.”

The Litvaks who emigrated to South Africa had left Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century because of heightened anti-Jewish activities during that time of intense political turmoil in the region, with pogroms under the Tsarist Russian regime, followed by Lithuanian nationalist antipathy towards them after WW1.

With the invasion of the Baltic region by Germany during WW2, with common cause made between the Nazi and Lithuanian nationalist forces, the determined extermination campaign against the Latviks became all-pervasive, so that practically their only escape was to join the communist partisans fighting the Nazis under the Red Banner of the USSR. Many South African Latviks, who at that time still had close family ties to that region, came to identify with the USSR as then the strongest force physically opposing the Nazis exterminating their kin, but also because of communism’s concept of “universal man” – seeing the latter ideology as antidote to the racial discrimination that Jews and others were so severely suffering.

To sum up – there’s no contradiction between Afrikaners admiring the state of Israel and facilitating for South African Zionist Jews to support it, and the fact that they could also recognize the statistical reality that of the white SACP membership, the vast majority were Jews. Just as knowing that all pigeons are birds but not all birds are pigeons, that distinction was not difficult to make.

The SAP-SB was also very much aware that, like practically any other white political party in South Africa through its post-1910 history, the SACP of that era actually had an Afrikaner at its head – Adv. Bram Fischer, who defended Nelson Mandela and his co-accused in the Rivonia trial.

Fischer was from a distinguished Free State Afrikaner family (his namesake grandfather was premier of the Orange River Colony and later a cabinet minister of the Union of South Africa).

Perhaps ironically, but illustrating the point above very well, the lead state prosecutor making the case against Mandela in that self-same Rivonia trial was Dr. Percy Yutar, born of Litvak immigrant parents, who would go on to become South Africa’s first attorney-general of Jewish descent (appointed to that position by the Afrikaner Nationalist government). A practicing Jew i.t.o. religion, Yutar was chairman of the United Hebrew Congregation (a collection of Orthodox synagogues in Johannesburg) for eleven years.


The policy of “separate development” (or so-called grand apartheid, as distinct from the afore-mentioned petty discriminatory measures) had its intellectual origin with Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, who became premier in 1958. This policy was based on a realization borne from the Afrikaner’s own harsh experience of British colonial oppression and discrimination. Namely, that purely race-based discriminatory deprivation of people’s political rights (as founded upon notions of racial superiority, such as had earlier pertained throughout the colonial world, especially the Anglophone one), could simply not be justified or sustained in the modern world.

It was fully understood that, just as the Afrikaner had strived for his political rights, non-white South-Africans would naturally hold similar aspirations.

That left only two morally and intellectually defensible options – namely that either equal rights had to be accorded to non-whites as well, in one unified South Africa, or else, that the political rights of blacks residing and working in the white economic heartland had to be linked to their own nation-states. Just as citizens of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana living and working in South Africa, had to fulfil their political aspirations in their own sovereignly independent homelands.

The scattering of “reservation” lands that had been created by the British colonial powers were thus intended to be expanded and developed into ethnic homelands, modelled on Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana. The citizens of these new states were then to be deemed guest workers in the South African economy, with consequently no political rights here. Geographical division was in vogue as solution elsewhere as well, such as with India and Pakistan, N & S Korea, N & S Vietnam, Israel and Palestine.

South Africa’s “separate development” experiment endured for some 30 years, from the late fifties to the late eighties, by which time it had become patently obvious that it was unworkable in practice and furthermore unacceptable to the majority of black South Africans, who had become urbanised and (as the main labour force), an indispensable part of the modern metropolitan economy.

It also failed as intellectual rationale, because it did not truly seek to establish an ethnic-based constellation of states as it claimed – it indeed tried to do so as regards the black tribes (ending up with two Xhosa “states”, because of not wanting to give up the white farmland located between them), but then still visualized a remaining bulk of “white” South Africa, thus inherently a racist definition based on skin colour. It also had no such solution for South Africans of Indian and “Coloured” origin, which meant that its true racist motives were clear for all to see – especially those disadvantaged by it.

Afrikaner politicians had long understood (from their own history and deeply-held aspirations) that there were only these two fundamental constitutional options available, namely either a unified and equal South Africa (inevitably implying black majority rule) or the  phantasmagorical constellation of regional ethnic-based states (which would require a fundamental re-allocation of South Africa’s land to pass muster as just and fair, and then still would not address the race-based issue of what to do with the “whites”, the Indians and the “Coloureds” in the remainder) .

There clearly could be no finessed constitutional compromise between the erstwhile race-based colonial system, and an equitable non-racial dispensation (as had been said – one cannot be half pregnant).

After the passing of Dr Verwoerd, white intelligentsia and the politicians in power increasingly came to understand that these options were mutually exclusive and that the “constellation of ethnic states” was comprehensively proving itself to be both unacceptable and unworkable, in addition to being painfully hurtful and damaging to those who were thereby being relegated to the periphery.

That growing understanding did not, however, in and of itself resolve the other great concern, namely the existential threat posed by international communism and its desire to take over the land by means of proxy forces. Most fortunately,  a window of opportunity opened in early 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the establishment of a working relationship between the white government and the USSR (and subsequently even more so with the new Russian Federation – for more detail on this see article in the NONGQAI of September 2021, p. 29: ).  


The erstwhile South African security forces are often portrayed as having been led by boorish, ignorant officers (very much in the manner that the British Army in 1899 had seriously underestimated the fighting acumen of the Boer forces, to their own detriment). This portrayal of the security forces can easily be tested against the established facts about their role facilitating the transition to a non-racial, Western-style democracy.

It was well understood by the security leadership that South Africa needed to avoid two things: on the one hand, the deployment of a UN-sponsored international intervention force, and on the other, a guerrilla war (of the kind that had engulfed the former Portuguese territories, Rhodesia and Indo-China).

This was in part based in their own intimate knowledge of how their forebears had obliged imperial Britain by means of just such a war (the 2nd Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902) to eventually offer a peace deal based on guaranteeing the Afrikaners self-government and thus overall political power within five years, with Britain also accepting the obligation to pay war reparations.

Thus, the Afrikaner leadership knew the risks, but also knew what was needed in order to seed a negotiated settlement. To achieve that, on the one hand the leadership of the liberation movements had to be convinced that they were not going to be able to grab power through a revolutionary war – no matter that their fellows in Algeria, Vietnam and the former Portuguese territories had achieved exactly that, against the might of the likes of the USA and France.

On the other hand, the white government had to be convinced that the problem at the root of the internal turmoil (as well as the potential casus belli justifying international armed intervention), was the race-based dispensation inherited as colonial legacy.

3.6.1 Changing the USSR’s Role in the Power Struggle:

To achieve the first objective, namely to destroy the ANC’s hope of establishing a people’s republic through armed struggle backed by the USSR (and to remove the existential threat of a Soviet take-over of South Africa by proxy) required nothing less than to move Moscow to cease its support for the ANC. Furthermore, the neighbouring “frontline states” had to be convinced not to harbour guerrilla fighters. Following that – once the existential threat of a communist take-over had thus been removed – the black liberation leadership had to be convinced that the white government was indeed serious about negotiating an equitable transition to full democracy.

That the “frontline states” were in fact so convinced, is history – with the result that the ANC-MK’s nearest bases to South Africa at the end of the eighties ended up being in Uganda. In perhaps the most audacious initiative of carrot and stick, the USSR was eventually convinced that the black liberation movements were a lost cause (and an unaffordably costly one at that):

  • first by convincing the Red Army that no military victory over the South African forces was possible,
  • secondly by playing the card of the economic interests shared by the RSA and the USSR in the marketing of gems, gold and other precious metals, and even armaments contracts (with a joint project being launched to replace the engines of South Africa’s Mirage jet fighters with Soviet ones – see our Nongqai series revealing that very telling level of military and sanctions-busting cooperation between Pretoria and the Soviets, at the height of the international arms embargo).
  • thirdly by reaching out directly to the Kremlin via the KGB – an initiative so successful that it resulted in Oliver Tambo, the ANC president, no longer being able to obtain meetings with Michael Gorbachev, whereas the latter had specially made time to receive South Africa’s intelligence chief, Dr. L.D. Barnard.

(Of course, the timing of these overtures was propitious, given the USSR’s increasingly dire economic problems, the disaster that it had suffered in Afghanistan and the growing restiveness among the populations of the Eastern Block). Yet, undeniably, achieving this ground-shifting realignment certainly doesn’t seem to speak of an ignorant, parochial security leadership on the South African side who didn’t understand global strategy.

Nongqai blog SAP SB series part 3 USSR MIG Mirage deal book cover

The fact that the Cold War era’s existential threat to the Afrikaner, i.e., of being overrun by international communism, had fallen away, meant the opening of a window of opportunity that enlightened leadership in the form of Mr. Nelson Mandela and President De Klerk could exploit.

It was the exact same Afrikaner Nationalist government of President FW de Klerk that then completely abandoned both separate development and the remnants of petty racial discrimination, negotiating a solution based on what no other party in the erstwhile white parliament – not even the mostly English-speaking Progressives – had hitherto proposed: a completely non-racial dispensation based on a fully equal right of one person, one vote.

De Klerk’s government then also became the first, anywhere, to voluntarily dismantle and abandon its nuclear arms programme. A costly programme which had very concretely evidenced the extent of the white fear that had existed, of being overrun by the communists and their proxies. Because these weapons with their simultaneously developed intercontinental ballistic missile systems capable of targeting Moscow, could logically only have served as deterrent against such a foreign invader. It could not conceivably have been intended for use internally, against opponents sharing the same South African cities where the whites resided.

The De Klerk initiative to negotiate a new constitutional dispensation with all black groups, was endorsed in a referendum by more than two-thirds of white voters on 17 March 1992. As practically all South Africans had anticipated from the moment that this process was initiated, the ANC’s Mr. Nelson Mandela was duly sworn in as South Africa’s first black, freely elected president on 10 May 1994. This transition had astounded the world, since the preceding decades of propaganda against the supposedly uniquely “vile, racist” Afrikaner government had not prepared the outside world for the possibility of such self-initiated negotiations and a peaceful, democratic hand-over of power. It had not been understood abroad that the experience of British imperial subjugation which Afrikaner, Zulu, Xhosa and the like had shared, together with the end of the communist threat, had allowed for mutual understanding and sufficient trust to be built between Africa’s white/brown tribe and its black counterparts.

The successful security force actions that had driven the armed wings of the liberation movements to North of the equator, together with the loss of their erstwhile main Moscow sponsor, had convinced the liberation movements to accept that they would not succeed in taking power through the barrel of a gun.

Equally, the white government had understood that a very special opportunity was presenting itself for negotiating a settlement. This urgently needed to be seized, since the white government’s negotiating leverage would in future diminish – especially when, with the Cold War having ended, the West would no longer fear the Communists gobbling up Africa and thus lose their last remaining motivation for assisting white South Africa (and henceforth – in the trend-setting USA in particular – being driven instead by the growing political influence of their own black populations).

3.6.3 Intelligence paradigm shift – moving from Sate Security to National Security:

What is not sufficiently credited, is that the white government’s own intelligence community (including of course the SAP-SB) had opened the eyes of white politicians to the fundamental reality driving the conflict. Namely, that it was precisely the colonially-originated policies of racial discrimination and of depriving citizens of colour of equal political rights in a unitary state, that were at the very root of the internal conflict, as well as of the international isolation and the growing economic pressure that together had begun to pose the true existential  threat to white South Africans.

An important component of this was the paradigm shift within the intelligence community from a “state security” approach to a “national security” paradigm. What was meant by this, was that the true task of the intelligence community had come to be understood as assessing and reporting threats to the security and prosperity of the nation, not merely threats to the state structures and to those who happened to be its office bearers at any given moment.

Applying this paradigm, it was evident that the biggest threat to the stability and welfare of the nation, stemmed from the polarization and resultant conflict caused by the discriminatory racist policies. In this way, the intelligence community could point out the core problem to the white politicians, without trespassing on party politics.

3.6.4 Examples of the Intelligence Community counselling the need for negotiations:

An example of the kind of advice given by the intelligence community, was that offered in 1983 about the initiative to establish a tricameral parliament. The then Prime Minister, PW Botha, had reached out to the Secretariat of the State Security Council (the body at that time responsible for coordinating security matters) with the request that he be provided with an assessment of the internal security implications of his intended announcement that he would table legislation changing the constitution, to make provision for a tricameral parliament representing white, Coloured and Indian voters. This, he said, he wanted to do without first holding a referendum among white voters, since he had a two-thirds majority in the then whites-only parliament.

The security assessment, which was duly provided, firstly underscored the undesirability of launching such an initiative without a referendum to try and legitimize it among at least the white electorate. More importantly, though, Botha was advised that such an initiative (that would continue to exclude the Black African majority from national political decision-making), was certain to worsen the internal security situation and that it would be preferable, from a national security perspective, to rather wait and seek instead an inclusive new constitutional solution.

Botha’s response was that he accepted the recommendation about the need for a referendum (which was held in November 1983) but that he deemed the “time not yet ripe” for seeking to include the Black majority in the national political process.

That the intelligence assessment as provided was perfectly correct in anticipating that the exclusionary new tricameral system would worsen the internal conflict, was subsequently (amply) proven by the heightened unrest that followed, obliging Botha to declare states of emergency.

 In 1986 the National Intelligence Assessment prepared for government by the intelligence community, had already envisaged that negotiations would become inevitable.

The SAP-SB for its part had, in a memorandum dated February 1987, strongly urged that negotiations be entered into, pointing out that a “communist should not be sought behind every bush” and that the aspirations of Black South Africans were in principle no different from that which the Afrikaner had held dear.

Nongqai blog SAP SB series part3 Genl FMAS memo cover

This message about the need for a negotiated political solution was what the military, the diplomatic service as well as the National Intelligence Service in particular, were to echo and amplify in the years leading up to President De Klerk’s historic announcement of 2 February 1990.

The role of the intelligence community in facilitating that pivotal new direction embarked upon by the De Klerk government, bears expanding upon. Because knowing more about that covertly-made part of our history (largely ignored by the “single story” still being pushed today) will enable you as reader to judge for yourself whether the security forces consciously helped, or hindered the transition to a non-racial Western-style democracy. 

3.6.5 Intelligence actively facilitating negotiations:

It is firstly necessary to understand the strategic planning challenges that existed, in the lead-up to the release of Mr. Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the SACP and black liberation movements. Part of it was manoeuvring the USSR out of the equation and convincing the liberation movements of the impossibility of gaining a military victory (as explained above). But then it wasn’t enough merely to understand that (since the problem was at its core political in nature, and not military), negotiations were in fact the only way forward. That is due to the reality that initiating negotiations doesn’t depend solely on your own will, but critically on having an able, willing and credible negotiating partner.

What the lessons of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and Namibia had taught, is that entering into negotiations with a partner who is not nationally and internationally credible, is a waste of time and energy.

Furthermore, in addition to needing credibility, that other lead party to the negotiations had to be able to take its movement and the nation with it to the negotiation table, so that the violent conflict would in fact stop when an accord is implemented (and divisions not be exacerbated by it). 

Once the government had come to understand the need for a negotiated settlement of the core constitutional challenge of how to accommodate all South Africa’s peoples in a just and equitable new system, it thus became imperative to verify beforehand that the other lead party was indeed willing and able to negotiate.

Furthermore, that not only was it now willing to negotiate instead of continuing to seek an armed revolutionary overthrow of the existing order, but that it also was now willing to do so on an acceptable basis.

Acceptable, in tis context, meant that any change would have to come about through the existing constitutional dispensation and processes, to be legitimized by the existing parliament passing the enabling laws (so that there can be an evolutionary constitutional continuity, with a smooth, peaceful and lawful hand-over to a new elected government, not a revolutionary smash-and-grab).

Even more so, it had to be confirmed beforehand that the other lead party to such negotiations was now indeed willing to negotiate on an open agenda (i.e., without prerequisites about the new constitution needing to be based on a Marxist “people’s republic”, for example). Therefore, that it would be willing to accept the retention of the free-market Western-style democratic model, if that was what the constitutional convention would lead to.

So, who could that other lead party to such negotiations realistically have been? It was evident that the amorphous, ego-populated leadership of the internal unrest-stokers, the UDF, could not conceivably be the white government’s lead negotiating partner. They themselves did not have the ability or credibility to take the population with them, would not have had the organisational cohesion to coalesce around clear negotiation positions, and would in any event have had to genuflect to the ANC abroad.

The PAC couldn’t be imagined as a lead partner either, principally because of their virulently racist anti-white position (summed up in their slogan: one settler, one bullet).

The Inkatha Freedom Party of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi would clearly be an important participant in any negotiations, representing as it did a significant portion of the Zulu nation, but because of its limited ethnic identity and association with the homeland system it could not be considered as a lead partner that could eventually take the whole nation with it and thus calm the conflict (which was, after all, the ultimate objective and rationale for the government to engage in such an unavoidably open-ended, high-risk venture as national constitutional negotiations).

Which left only the ANC – which was at least nominally non-racist, internationally credible and (thanks to its SACP organizational backbone) capable of supporting coherent policy positions.

That is, if the ANC could overcome the perennial divisions between its radical (Lusaka) wing and its moderate (London) wing, a division dating back to the time of Chief Albert Luthuli and the break-away of Robert Sobukwe, and currently again being manifested in the present strife in the ANC between the RET (radical economic transformation) Mak-faction on the one hand with their dream of a 2nd revolution (their so-called National Democratic Revolution) and on the other hand, the moderates who backed current president Cyril Ramaphosa.

It was apparent to the intelligence community that the charismatic Mr. Nelson Mandela, who had been boosted to international stardom by the very effective propaganda machine abroad, even though locked up in prison (just think of the “Free Mandela” pop concerts), would hold the key to which way the ANC would go. It was thus imperative to find out what his stance would be – but, beyond that, to pro-actively engage with the ANC’s leadership abroad as well, to be certain that they would follow Mandela’s lead.

Engaging systematically, first through informal backchannels, then formal backchannels, and eventually (if all panned out) engaging in formal negotiations.

3.6.6 Intelligence assessment regarding the abilities of Mr. Nelson Mandela:

It is opportune now to review the assessment that the intelligence community had formed over the years of Mr. Mandela and his personal capabilities. Recent articles (also in the November 2021 issue of Nongqai) have mentioned the debate around Mr. Mandela’s release and a key meeting that took place in the 11th floor conference room of the National Intelligence Service at their HQ (the Concilium Building) in Pretoria during the early eighties.

It so happens that I was the recording secretary of that meeting (as then staff officer to the NIS head of analysis, Mr Cor Bekker). The latter chaired what was a subcommittee of the CIC – the Coordinating Intelligence Committee – that periodically had to review and make recommendations about Mr. Mandela’s further detention and the conditions there-of (it is noteworthy that the CIC didn’t form part of the military-dominated National Security Management System, but fell directly under the director-general of National Intelligence).

The consensus of the meeting was that it would be a calamity if Mr. Mandela should die in prison – the very best medical care for him therefore had to be ensured, and it was accepted by all that his eventual release was a question of when, rather than if (he was moved from Robben Island to a Cape Town’s Pollsmoor prison in March 1982, i.a., to ensure that emergency health care would be rapidly available).

The obvious question therefore became: what would the likely impact be, of Mr. Mandela being released into South Africa’s political conflict? The expert assessment with regard to Mr. Mandela’s capabilities and character was provided by the senior psychologist of the Dept. of Correctional Services, who had been observing him first-hand, up close. He was completely unequivocal in his assessment: Mr. Mandela possessed such exceptional charisma and intellectual abilities, that he would completely overshadow any of the then white political heavyweights in government.

This understandably caused a bit of a stir, and one of the senior military brass in attendance, asked whether the expert was saying that Mr. Mandela would overshadow even someone like Dr. Gerrit Viljoen (minister of education and former head of the Broederbond as well as former vice-chancellor of the Rand Afrikaans University – seen by many as the leading intellectual in the then cabinet).

The expert’s reply was short, firm and clear: “absolutely!”

Later events bore this assessment out as correct. In the context of this discussion, it goes to show that the intelligence community weren’t labouring under any false illusions, being ready and willing to accept reality, whichever way it presented itself.

The willingness to arrive at such an assessment, also flies in the face of the idea that white supremacist thinking prevailed.

What it most pertinently illustrates, though, is that only in a state of laws would such a formidable opponent have been allowed to live – in any totalitarian system, he would have been eliminated long ago. (Dr. Neil Barnard, DG of the N.I.S., has acknowledged that there were, indeed, isolated individuals within the “security establishment” who had on occasion favoured such a “solution” but they were of course not heeded).

3.6.7 Secret negotiations with the ANC:

The same Dr. Barnard had, in May of 1988, received a mandate from then-president P W Botha to lead secret exploratory conversations with Mr Mandela, after Barnard had been working since 1985 to convince the “Big Crocodile” (as PW was known) of the inevitability and desirability of seeking a negotiated settlement. Barnard accepted the new assignment, but only after having warned Botha expressly that there should be no illusions about the consequences: entering into such discussions with Mandela could lead to only one thing – black majority rule with Mandela eventually becoming president of South Africa.

“I understand that very well. You don’t need to preach to me” was Botha’s response.

In December 1989 Mr. Mandela was transferred from Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town to the Drakenstein prison farm between Paarl and Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands, in order to facilitate these regular secret talks. Based on the assessment by Barnard’s team that Mr. Mandela was indeed willing to negotiate without unacceptable preconditions, PW Botha could eventually be convinced to receive Mr. Mandela at his Cape Town office on 5 July 1989; due to a stroke he had suffered, Botha was however replaced as president by Mr. FW de Klerk the following month.

Less well known than these secret talks with Mr. Mandela on the Drakenstein prison farm, is that by that time the N.I.S. had also already opened up an informal backchannel to the ANC leadership abroad. The manner in which this contact was managed, was to persuade Prof. Willie Esterhuyse of Stellenbosch University to act as secret intermediary with Mr. Thabo Mbeki (the ANC’s then head of foreign relations, later to become Mr. Mandela’s successor as president).

Nongqai blog SAP SB series part3 Endgame cover

Dr Esterhuyse had been invited by British mining interests (Consgold) to a series of confidential “get to know each other” meetings in England between ANC leaders and leading figures in Afrikaner civil society outside of government. Many of these meetings were held at the secluded Mells Park Estate.

The N.I.S. had seen this as an ideal opportunity to initiate contact and had prepped Esterhuyse (whom they had formally registered as a “source”, code-name “Gert”). During the second such meeting in England in February 1988 (which was the first to be attended by Mbeki) Esterhuyse took Mbeki aside and confided in him about his N.I.S. connection, assuring Mbeki that he would faithfully convey to their Concilium HQ in Pretoria, any messages or information entrusted to him.

These meetings continued to take place regularly every few months.

In May 1989, the N.I.S. upped the ante, wanting to take the contact to the next level. Esterhuyse was instructed to arrange a dedicated, very confidential one-on-one meeting between himself and Mbeki in London, not part of any Consgold talks. This took place on 31 May 1989, at the offices of British American Tobacco.

After some small-talk, Esterhuyse surreptitiously handed Mbeki a short written note to the effect that “the walls have ears” and another asking for a private number where the N.I.S. could contact him to arrange a direct meeting, then left to go to the bathroom.

Mbeki immediately understood the import; later that same day they met again briefly in a bar and confirmed that the moment had dawned to establish a formal backchannel. Mbeki provided the requested phone number, confirming that he would be waiting for a call from “John Campbell”.

Five weeks later, the meeting that Barnard had arranged between PW Botha and Mandela took place. However, soon thereafter Botha, who had undermined and deposed his predecessor John Vorster, met the same fate when his cabinet’s patience with his increasingly aggressive, authoritarian manner had finally run out. FW de Klerk (who was an outsider, as regards the security apparatus that Botha had established) was sworn in on 15 August as acting president.

The N.I.S. now had to get a mandate for their intended first formal backchannel meeting with the ANC. On the 16th of August they had tabled a purposely vaguely-worded resolution for consideration by the State Security Council (#13 of 1989) in which it was stated that it had become imperative to gather more information about the ANC’s positions regarding negotiations, if need be by means of “direct special actions” to be launched with the assistance of the N.I.S. This resolution was duly passed, as a matter of form, and with no questions asked.

On 12 September a top N.I.S. delegation under the leadership of deputy director-general Mike Louw met with Mbeki and Jacob Zuma (then the ANC’s head of intelligence) at a hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland, with the logistics arranged and security provided by an N.I.S. advance team. By all accounts, the meeting was a success.

Five days later, Louw met with then still acting president FW de Klerk in his office in Cape Town, to hand over his report about the meeting.  The unsuspecting De Klerk listened first with surprise and then with some anger to Louw’s introduction, finally asking where the N.I.S. had obtained the authorization from for such a meeting, since he as acting president had not been informed about it.

Unflustered, Louw then handed him a copy of the resolution passed by that very first SSC meeting that De Klerk himself had chaired – the one of 16 August.

With restored equanimity, De Klerk then wanted to know everything about the meeting and encouraged the N.I.S. to continue on the course they had set. He had grasped the urgent need for the white government to regain the political initiative and he himself then started running hard with that ball, leading to his famous address to parliament just six months later on 2 February 1990, committing the white government to a negotiated settlement, the complete scrapping of Apartheid, the unbanning of the SACP and liberation movements, and the release of Mr. Mandela.

Considering the role of the intelligence community in facilitating (if not pushing) the initiation of negotiations as preferred solution, it seems illogical to suspect them of all having been dyed-in-the-wool white supremacists, doesn’t it? Particularly since the end result of black majority rule had clearly been foreseen by all in the intelligence community, and – most especially – given the vast military superiority they had enjoyed to the end, and could have easily used to thwart any hand-over of power, if they had so wished…

3.6.8 The Role of the Security Forces in the negotiation and transition phases:

It is common knowledge that the negotiation and transition phases (between president De Klerk’s 2 February 1990 announcement and the first non-racial elections in April 1994) had seen an even more violent power struggle between different black factions, especially the ANC and the Zulu-based Inkatha movement.

It had also given rise to serious threats from the side of far-right white groups to instigate a coup (in this latter situation, particularly the right-wing mobilization steered by former Defence Force chief General Constand Viljoen, posed probably the biggest single threat to the entire transition). 

It was the steadfast maintenance of their professionalism and political neutrality by the security forces, plus their dedication to their duties of maintaining law and order, that in the end made the transition to democracy possible. It was the then Police Commissioner (himself a former commander of the SAP-SB) who had personally made it very clear to General Viljoen that the security forces, and the police in particular, would clamp down on any extra-legal attempt at a coup against the constitutional process.

In this regard, it needs underscoring that the SAP-SB acted very efficiently against instigators of white right-wing violence. A case in point is the speedy arrest and successful prosecution of the two white extremist assassins of the SA Communist Party leader and then head of the ANC-MK, Mr. Chris Hani.

Another example is the rounding-up of extremists of the “Afrikaner Resistance Movement” who, just prior to the first multi-racial elections in April 1994, had been exploding bombs at public facilities such as the international airport.

It bears quoting here the New York Times of 28 April 1994: “The South African police struck back at election terrorism today and announced the arrest of 31 white rightists charged with 21 bombing deaths in the days leading up to the current nation-wide voting for a government of national reconstruction. The arrests, carried out in an investigative dragnet, were cited by the police as notice that terrorists would not “derail the election process” that is to lead to a new and democratic South Africa… As he faces the tasks of racial integration and national reconstruction, Nelson Mandela, the black leader expected to be elected the next President, has pointedly praised police efforts to control terrorist violence and rebuild public confidence in the force’s professionalism … in discussing the bombing investigation after conferring with police officials, Mr. Mandela said they had done their intelligence “homework” well… The arrests of the 31 white rightists were not the first made by the police against reputed militant white supremacists in the transition period. A year ago, the force led an investigation that ultimately saw two men convicted for the assassination of Chris Hani, a revered black political leader. The police also successfully pursued right-wing paramilitary terrorists who had set up road blocks to trap and murder black drivers”.

From its inception in 1939 to its dissolution in 1994, the SAP-SB had found that the Boer-Brit struggle, which later was cut across by the black-white struggle and ultimately by  the black-on-black conflict during the ANC’s “people’s war” (all political power struggles strong on propaganda), had each imposed a very different political context within which the SAP-SB had perforce to perform its function as the nation’s principal statutory entity responsible for countering those from either left or right who had opted to wage politics by violent means.

This it had assiduously done, in a principled manner. If the members of the SAP-SB had indeed all been such right-wing white supremacist racists as propagandists now once again try to suggest, one would hardly have anticipated them to have diligently protected the process of transiting to the self-evident inevitability of a black majority government!

Nongqai blog SAP SB series part3 PW Botha Nelson Mandela meet

Mr. Nelson Mandela shaking hands with then-president PW Botha, with Dr Niël Barnard (centre) Director-General of the National Intelligence Service, who had arranged the meeting, looking on.