Chapter Ten – Protecting the President
“With all due respect, Madiba, I don’t think that you are understanding how serious this Afrikaner right wing plot is, not only to your life but to the people of our country,” said Defence Minister Joe Modise sternly.
“The Intelligence reports show that an Afrikaner splinter group is planning to bomb black hotspots such as taxi ranks and power stations near townships. This is apart from them having you down as the No 1 target for assassination.”
Mandela looked at the faces of the twenty men seated around the boardroom table. None seemed set to call the Defence Minister to order, but all seemed keen to rather back him.
“Madiba, we need to put the army on to the street and to prove a point to the former oppressor that there is a new regime in charge which has the interest of all people, most notably the black majority, at heart,” went on Modise.
Mandela’s face started to tense up. Thabo Mbeki, seated to Mandela’s right, had seen this situation so many times before, but he always admired the President’s ability not to lose his cool.
“Joe, you are aware that we cannot stereotype and paint all Afrikaners with the same brush?” asked Mandela rhetorically.
“If you understand that, then you will know that by deploying the army on to the streets will be a sign of the early weakness of this new government in the eyes of the opposition.”
“Yes, Madiba but…” chipped in Modise.
“Joe, we need to stay on course with the same strategies that got us to this point,” said the President.
“We need to continue working with the Intelligence unit to identify the safehouses where the right wingers are operating from. Then we raid them to stop their progress.”
“What if we are too late to stop some of their bombings?” asked a frustrated Modise.
“Our Intelligence unit and ground military are well trained to handle such matters, so we should be able to get to right wingers before they cause damage, unless of course you have no confidence in some of your fellow colleagues?” commented Mandela, with his eyes firmly focused on his Minister of Defence.
“No, sir, I have full confidence in my colleagues all of the time,” replied Modise.
“Then it is settled, lets make an all-out effort to find the plotters,” closed off Mandela.
You did the right thing, Madiba. Putting the army on to the streets would look like a victory to the former oppressor.
“Thank you,” said Mandela to the inner voice, with those around the table not sure who their leader was talking too.
Modise folded his arms realising that he was not going to win this boardroom battle.
Three seats to the President’s right, Cadre Douglas Mtlala raise his hand. The short, stocky built fellow was a part of the Intelligence unit.
“President, I can tell you that to the best of our knowledge, the plot is not linked to the former Apartheid government,” he said.
“It seems to be a bunch of random Afrikaner right wingers who are on a mission to create chaos at any cost.”
Mandela nodded. He expected some Afrikaner crackpots to try and derail law and order.
“Keep working on finding their safehouse,” Mandela reiterated.
The President pointed at a glass in front of him and Vice President Mbeki assisted in pouring a glass of water for the leader.
“Gentlemen,” began Mandela, after taking in a sip of water.
“It is your job to keep this country and our people safe, but we cannot go in guns blazing like in the old days. We are now leaders in a new dispensation. Every mistake that is made, weakens the Rand and we need to be careful as to what decisions we take.”
Modise sat staring at the boardroom table. It seemed that those who promised to support his cause of getting the army on to the streets, had now shifted to agreeing with Mandela.
“We need to place our focus on transforming all sectors of South African society, most notably the army and the police,” went on the President.
“However, this does not mean that the white men and women must be side-lined, as they have much skill and expertise to offer to our new order.”
Some members around the table agreed while others moaned. The ANC had fought a good battle with the National Party eventually agreeing to a New South Africa. Now, Mandela was giving it all back to the former enemy, so it seemed.
“We need to set a long-term vision plan for our country,” continued Mandela.
“Since independence, many African countries have failed their people and we cannot and will not go that route.”
Some members clapped hands in support of what their leader was saying.
“We need to prove to the world and our people that a black government can succeed,” added Mandela.
“Failure is not an option.”
Madiba, the right-wing coup plot will be foiled. The plotters will be located at a safehouse, but not before setting off some bombs in Soweto.
“Will lives be lost?” asked Mandela, and again, his utterance got some strange looks around the table.
Was the old man going crazy?
I am afraid some lives will be lost, but not yours.
Mandela thought carefully. One life lost was one too many regardless of race or creed, he thought.
South Africa was a reasonably safe country from an international warfare perspective. The continent’s most southern nation did not have any major enemies now that the ANC was in command. In-fact they were the talk of the town.
If the world wanted anything from South Africa it was the country’s famous gold.
“How safe is our gold?” asked Mandela to his inner voice.
This time there was no reply.
The President looked glum. What was going on? Had his guardian angel left his spirit? Was the inner voice on a late lunch break?
Eventually, the voice spoke.
The gold is safe, Madiba. However, millions of South Africans will be waiting for your mistakes.
What was also safe, unfortunately, for Mandela, was South Africa’s foreign debt from the Apartheid era, which the new government inherited at US$25 billion.
To run the country, Mandela had already signed a loan of US$850 million. His decision to appoint ex-Apartheid era Finance Minister Derek Keys and Reserve Bank governor Chris Stals, also brought about some frowns from those who had just got into power.
Many in his own party whispered that Mandela was a superb liberation struggle leader, but an inconsistent President. He was blamed for being ‘in bed’ with the Afrikaner nationalist and white corporate business.
They (your detractors) do not understand the difficult position that you are in, in terms of cash-flowing South Africa’s new democracy, Madiba.
Mandela was fully aware of the drama around the assassination of Chris Hani. Public speculation was rife that Hani was on the brink of spilling the beans about how Joe Modise had enriched himself through the Arms Deal. A few bullets from the pistol held by Polish anti-communist Janusz Walus silenced the South African Communist Party (SACP) leader.
You are safe, Madiba. God is with you.
Very little had been known about Mandela’s religious beliefs and of course, his ties with the SACP through the ANC liberation struggle alliance, left many to wonder if the President was a believer of the Holy Book or not.
Your religious views are not for anyone to know but yourself, Madiba.
“I am safe as long as I have your guidance in my head,” muttered the President.
“Excuse me, sir,” said a security cluster man seated four to the left of Mandela, who had heard the President utter something.
Mandela cleared his throat.
“No, its is alright,” said Mandela, as he straightened his tie.
The tie was a major issue for Mandela. He was used to wearing one in the days of being a lawyer prior to his arrest in 1962.
Then on that all-important date of 11 February 1990 when he was due to be released from prison, he suddenly realised that he had forgotten how to make the knot of a tie.
Mandela was quite impressed with what this inner voice knew about his tenure up until 2010.
What was even more impressive was that his gut feel on decisions was aligned with what the inner voice told him.
He was pretty sure that Robert Mugabe did not have an inner voice advising him, otherwise Zimbabwe would not be in the predicament that it was.
Mandela excused himself from the meeting and headed out of the boardroom, followed by Thabo Mbeki.
“Thabo, was I right in the way in which I handled Joe Modise?” asked the President, who was always keen on hearing the opinion of his deputy.
“Madiba, you were correct, we cannot deploy the army based on a risk such as a few right wingers,” explained Mbeki.
“It will be a victory to the opposition, whoever they might be.”
Mandela nodded. Mbeki and the inner voice were basically on the same page too.
“You need to continue with your course of befriending the Afrikaner rather than antagonising them,” went on Mbeki.
“This country has huge potential for all who live in it.”
Mandela was sure that wherever the inner voice was, he or she was smiling at Mbeki’s views.
Of course, the Boeremag right wing threat was real. There were many Afrikaner groups calling for their own republic within South Africa, but Mandela turned a deaf ear to them.
South Africa would not be divided into republics again, like it had been in the days of the Afrikaner Voortrekkers in the 1800s.
The President was in enough trouble for allowing the Afrikaner town of Orania to continue. Situated on the R369 road between Pretoria and Cape Town, the town was a typical example of ‘time marched on and Orania stood still’.
The town had a population of 892 people of which 97.2% members were white. The people living there are on a mission to retain the Afrikaner language and culture.
Betsie Verwoerd, widow of former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, lived there until her death in 2000.
Orania was another of Mandela’s concessions to the Afrikaner. His biggest challenge would be when allowing the South African rugby team to remain with the Springbok logo, which was seen by many on the left wing, as a sign of Afrikaner superiority and strength.
To Mandela, allowing the Springbok emblem to remain was another ‘olive branch’ compromise to the Afrikaner. Many of his own would not see it that way, particularly after the many anti-Apartheid activists protested the Springboks, most notably Wynand Claassen’s rugby team’s tour of New Zealand in 1981. It was on this tour that protestors went as far as to drop flour bombs form a plane to try and stop the rugby test match at Eden Park, Auckland. For the record, New Zealand won the series decider 25-22, courtesy of a hotly disputed penalty kick deep into injury time in the second half.
Mandela shook his head as he considered the long road that the ANC had travelled to get to this point of a new democracy. He was certainly not going to let some power-hungry right wingers disrupt everything.
Trust your resources, Madiba.
Yes, that was correct, he thought. Just as he had told Joe Modise in the meeting, he needed to believe in his Intelligence and police to find the culprits and to let justice take its course.
The ANC nowadays had full control of all forms of military in the country, but he was fully aware that there were many ex-soldiers and cops of the Apartheid era, who had the skill and quite possibly, the resources to descend certain parts of society (and most notably black areas) into a state of chaos.
What many white people did not understand was that the ANC military men, who were now being incorporated into the country’s defence force and police, were well trained men and women. Many had been trained in Russia and other countries who supported the anti-Apartheid cause.
Mandela felt that the country was in safe hands. Back in his office, he was soon joined by second Vice president F.W. de Klerk.
Just days into the New South Africa, the problems were mounting up. De Klerk, who had saved his country from a potential racial civil war by closing the book on Apartheid, was miffed in that his National Party were being excluded from key government decision-making.
“Mr de Klerk, I am sure that you understand the difficult position I am in based on the past history of our country, which is something that our people cannot simply just forget,” began Mandela, seated at his desk, with his second Vice President opposite him.
“I do, Mr Mandela, but right now, my party feels that the ANC is not at all open to making use of our years of governing and our say is falling on deaf ears,” said de Klerk.
“I am sorry you and your party feel that way,” muttered Mandela, who was feeling the effects of a long week even though it was only his second day in the Union Buildings.
“We will need to reach some compromises in order for this to work,” commented the former President.
Mandela shook his head.
“The days of compromises ended at the drafting of the new constitution for our country, Mr de Klerk. Now it is time to get down to work.”
The ANC’s firm stance on their relationship with the National Party would eventually lead to a breaking point where de Klerk’s team would withdraw from the Government of National Unity (GNU) in August 1996, to become the official opposition party.
Having led his party out of the GNU, de Klerk said: “continued participation in the GNU was equivalent to a death sentence for even the broadest and mildest concept of Government based on consensus. Continued participation would be equivalent to detention on a kind of political death row. The survival of multi-party democracy, which depends on the existence of a strong and credible opposition, was being threatened by our continued participation in the GNU”.
The Nationalists would take things further and dig in their heels by refusing to continue testifying at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, citing political bias against their members.
To power share with the National Party was always going to be difficult, Madiba. What will be, will be.