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In conversation with Lord Robin Renwick of Clifton on the Frontline States

Indelible Media Team Content Producer Barbara King in conversation with Lord Robin Renwick on the Frontline States
– at the Mt. Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, 31 January 2014


Barbara: So in the Frontline States, it’s, this year is the 20th anniversary of the Frontline states and it’s called all for one or one for all a tribute to Frontline States because I don’t think it’s been in the media enough for what they’ve gone through and that’s what is about. So I’m just sort of wondering from your point of view outside the companion what was the relationship between you and South Africa say from ’60s to the ‘90s in it’s overall statement…

Barbara: in terms of the Frontline States, in terms of what they are looking at in South Africa, how did they see all that was happening here?

Robin: Well I think, I first had dealings with the Frontline States over Rhodesia of course and you know one had to feel a great deal of sympathy for the predicament they were in and you know as the Rhodesian… the Frontline States harbored of course the camps for, for countless gorillas in Zambia and Mugabe’s gorilla forces in Mozambique and the Rhodesians’ in response to that launched ferocious cross border raids into both countries, distracting and wreaking infrastructure, terrorizing various parts of those countries and also those countries were heavily dependent especially in Zambia on supplies from Rhodesia, especially Rhodesia Agricultural Exports and the economies of Zambia and Mozambique were in very poor shape.

Largely self-inflicted by the way because whatever I had lots of sympathy for both these countries but not actually for the economy policies, now you know, we, we were trying to resolve the Rhodesia problem and I have to say that the really effective help we got in doing so came from President Samora Machel you know, President Kaunda was very well intentioned but he spent a lot of his time ringing in his hands and worrying about situations and so on and Machel when it came to the crucial moment in the negotiations at Lancaster House we had, we had established you know a respectable constitution. We were going to send the British governor to organize elections, which were going to be indisputably free and fair and Mugabe was still holding out and what Mugabe wanted was some seizure of power and so but President Machel’s representative was a close friend of mine Fernando Onawa and we said to him this is now or never another Fernando you need to tell your president that him must decide whether he wants a peaceful outcome or wants to go on with an ever worsening war?

And Machel didn’t hesitate and he told Mugabe you sign this document and if you don’t you know you will be no further support from Mozambique and that’s actually how the Lancaster House agreement was concluded, and Samora Machel came an unlikely supporter of Margret Thatcher and they proceeded to join the Common Wealth as a result of that. So then we fast forward to South Africa and again, the South African, the Frontline States were really struggling because some of them are harboring ANC units, certainly they were ANC operations in Mozambique obviously and Lesotho and some pockets in Botswana.

And Zimbabwe and so on and the South Africans also were launching in cross border raids on these, on these targets and, and Angola had of course you know much bigger camps of the ANC as did Tanzania further away now the, the Frontline States were in a very difficult position not only you know in terms of the penalties the Apartheid was inflicting on them but also the diplomacy because what that position was, was all out sanctions against South Africa but not by us we, we you know we… you went to state house in Lusaka you were offered a glass of South African wine, while you were given a lecture about how we must break off all our economic relations with South Africa. So this caused quite a bit of ironizing because they were trying to show support for the liberation movements, so, good for them and that’s what they needed to do.

But it was of course ironic to try to argue that on the one hand we must try to bring down the South African economy but what would then happen to their economies which was critically dependent on the South African economy and are today and you know obviously there even some of them are even more dependent, Zambia has good for it recovered significantly and Mozambique has recovered, but Zimbabwe is in a terrible situation entirely self-inflicted… so you know, they, they went through an extremely difficult period… now you know things ought to be infinitely better now certainly you know, there is no longer a kind of penalties they were suffering from the South Africans before.

Barbara: Ok so what… when you came in ’87 I mean it was the peak time you know, lots of disasters had happened it looked like every thing was going to fall apart, UDF had been formed, all that seemed to be good news. It must have been extra ordinary time for you and I’m just thinking what was the forces at play, what did you find and what your outcomes were you hoping for and what were you feeling?

Robin: Well. When I arrived in South Africa in ’87 the situation was extremely dire, you know, thousands of people in detention. Allthe, all the senior Black leaders were in jail or in exile, repression, full on repression all over the place. I remember asking the security police how things were going, from his point of view he said, this time we have locked up all the right people as if that was going to solve the problem. The UDF would have had been formed which is a hugely important element because it was internal black resistance rather than external you know effects which did most to bring the system down and when the government told me that you know no, no Black government can possibly organize anything and by implications no Black South Africans could organize anything.  I would say how come they achieved a rally of 200 000 people outside Port Elizabeth last Sunday and that the ANC was highly organized within the country and the UDF was the ANC in drag.

So at the time we you know, I… it was very obvious I believed and I, I thought that it wouldn’t all end in total disaster that at some point I was Suzmanite. There would have to be negotiations between the reasonable Whites and the reasonable Blacks you know that made the Afrikaners because the English speakers were economically important but the political dominant tribe was the Afrikaner. So as I said I got to know the senior Afrikaner civilians who were very unhappy about the way things were going and the younger NATS were also very unhappy about the way things were going because of the militarization regime run by’ Securocrats,’ P.W Botha was a saga and you know so were the people working for him plus the death squads but also we needed to do something to improve our relations with the, the Black community in general and the liberation movement so we had one or two projects in the townships.

When I arrived and I asked all the younger members of the embassy to really give up almost rather of their activities and all of them adopt projects in the townships. So we ended up with 300 projects across the townships all over the place and these were working with the local civic organizations who were also either ANC in drag or PAC or ZAPU or whatever. So that brought into contact with the whole internal leadership of the ANC, PAC etc. and I was astonished one day sitting in my embassy that a government messenger appeared with an envelope and then in the envelope was a note on a yellow manuscript note, on a yellow legal pad from Mandela in jail thanking me for all the efforts we were making in townships, saying he didn’t agree with Margret Thatcher about sanctions but wanted the opportunity to meet her to tell her why and meanwhile best wishes to your Prime Minister. So I was astonished that this letter had appeared and that I did reply to it saying to him we are doubling our efforts and she Thatcher was doubling try to secure your release and when you are released. We will support “one person, one vote”, constitution with protection for minority rights and there was a debate within government.  De Klerk had just taken over, there was a debate in the government whether this reply should go back to him, but it did, it went back to him. Helen Suzman also told him precisely what we were trying to do because I asked her to. So when Mandela was release, he summoned me to see him at the airport in Johannesburg first time actually.

And the press was there and to his astonishment to their astonishment because he greeted me very warmly and asked about my family amazingly because Helen had told him about them but then said please pass my very best wishes to you know Margret Thatcher at which point the BBC crew nearly fainted on where we are, but  after that I used to go and see him every other week in his small matchbox house in, in Soweto cause he didn’t initially move in to so called ‘Beverly Hills’ which was where Winnie was staying. And he was dressed at that time by his tailor used to suit him, immaculate; prince of whales check suits.

We helped him train his bodyguards, we helped him built a wall around his house to prevent people sneaking into, into the house and we helped him in his discussions with the government when he got stuck with de Klerk, he’d say to me ‘I got stuck, what do you think can be done?’ And after a few of these meetings I said to him ‘you’ve been jail for 27 years, why don’t we stop meeting like this and why don’t we go to the best restaurant in Johannesburg’ which at the point was called Linger Longa in Braamfontein. So I booked a table for two, five minutes before he arrived I told owner who the other guest was going to be at which the was a sharp intake of breaths you know this terrorist coming to lunch… when he walked into the restaurant, he did what you know… became so familiar first of all he went table to table greeting every single guest, asking who are you? Oh yeah! I’ve heard about you and so on, all this mining magnates half of who had voted to keep him in jail for 27 years.

You know, winning them over, seeing that everybody. We then had a very nice lunch following which he dived into the kitchen to thank the staff by the time he walked out into the streets a large crowd had gathered but he was great. Firstly in the restaurant after 27 years, so we had a whole series of meetings after that, including one where he was due to see Thatcher. He didn’t want to fight with Thatcher, how do; I get her on my side. So we had a dressed rehearsal for this meeting you know I said you could be Mandela, I’ll be Thatcher and we talked for quite a while about you know the struggle for human rights, try to negotiate, you know the story it was absolutely hopeless, you know tried to blow up an electricity pillion but that didn’t succeed then jail for, jail for 27 years and I said to him yes Mr. Mandela.

We agreed with all that one person, one vote, constitution, I know that you are right now stop all this nonsense of nationalizing the banks and the mines at which he rolled with laughter and said well, you know, we adopted that before I went to jail that was 27 years ago and it was fashionable then he said with a smile. And I said well it’s not fashionable now don’t try arguing that in Downing Street. So I then went to see Thatcher and I said to her, you know, don’t forget he has waited 27 years to tell you his side of the story. So she glared at me, you know with her clear blue eyes she said you mean I mustn’t interrupt? I said not for the first half hour. She let him talk for an hour about this struggle of human rights, for basic rights in South Africa and then she said absolutely, we agree with you about all that Mr. Mandela. So please that at the least these negotiations can start, stop all this nonsense about nationalizing the banks and the mines. Which she burst out laughing, she didn’t understand why but he did and they then had an intense discussion about the negotiations, about what he wanted to achieve and there was an agreement actually at last and then about economics she was trying to get him a rapid course in economics 101.

And this meeting went on so long, a very friendly meeting over lunch 3 hours actually but the British press outside in Downing Street started shouting “free Nelson Mandela!” and then he walked out onto the doorstep and rightly paid tribute to her role in on pressing for his… helping him to get out of jail. So then, you know there was a difficult negotiation period where we you know had many episodes. Where we had to try to help and towards the end of that both Helen and I separately went to see Mandela to say look de Klerk made this huge changes, his facing resistance from the consecutive party and you need to do something to help him win this referenda which he is planning to win.

So what would that be Mandela said and we both suggested the same thing, namely the provincial lifting the conditional lifting of the sports embargo don’t wait lift it now. You could always re-impose it later so and he consulted Steve Swati he was this sports chap and they agreed and they did that. It did help show White South Africans that you know the country was getting back to, to normality.

Barbara: What in general did you and your colleagues learn from observing the Frontline States from their individual and the group strategies, what did the new South Africa gain from the other countries and I understand the country was going back to normality.

Robin: Yes I mean their objectives, their objectives obviously were to, to end Apartheid but they had very little ability to do so either than trying to harbor the ANC and the other liberation movements but when they did harbor them they were attacked by the South Africans. So there was, there was a stalemate, which they simply couldn’t break. That is why the change had to come from within you know… there came a moment here when de Klerk took over.

I knew him well and I was confident he would change things, most people by the way didn’t believe he would but I did because he was a civilian and he made a speech at the time, secret speech to the police just after he took over saying up to now the politicians here have been looking to you to solve their political problems that got to stop. You know it’s stamping out, it’s like a fire on the veld. If you stamp it out in one place it will start again somewhere else and you going to have to leave it to us to deal with the politics, from now on but in, in, as for the status quo, the status quo cannot be maintained he said without shooting thousands of people. I am not prepared to do that, very clear message to them and what he was saying he actually told the Afrikaner friend of mine, of course he couldn’t held out for another 10 or 15 or who knows many years and what would we had done then and he said to the police if this Armageddon takes place, and the streets are filled with blood, when the shooting stops the problem would be exactly the same as it was before it started.

But it was the most eloquent speech he ever made by the way. So good for him and you know people who have had all this wonderful celebrations about Mandela you know people were honoring, respect to Helen Suzman but nobody should ever forget that but for what he did and which required a lot of political courage at the time to do it because you had a large chance of the army and police against him and you know many, many Afrikaner zone communities were very unhappy, this you know we’d all be living today in a very different country.

Barbara: In terms of the message was this “all for one, one for all” done out of necessity or morality?

Robin: Oh! I mean from the Frontline States point of view it was born of morality and obviously they, they firmly believed in “one person, one vote” they wanted to see the liberation movement, movement succeed and so on but also you know they, they knew that in the end Apartheid, an Apartheid South Africa would always be their enemy actually, now that there is a majority in government in South Africa they still worry about South Africa’s kind of preponderance in the region but they don’t worry that they might be invaded or harassed or terrorized.

Barbara: But also it seems like the Africans, as they got their independence and they got different platforms and the leaders rose to certain levels, they used what they have, what uses they have, the UN, the Commonwealth, well I mean the Commonwealth members and the Civilians, how did that come about?

Robin: They constantly argued about the UN and the Common Wealth for more and more sanctions and so on and they basically supported the, you know the position of liberation movements.  All the way through you know with, with some degree of success undoubtedly. And we, we believed as you know that blanket sanctions were not a good idea you know. I wrote a book 10 years before this arguing that targeted sanctions are more effective than blanket sanctions and we had already imposed military, Nuclear, oil sanctions and sports sanctions and Helen Suzman was a sports lover she was initially horrified by the sports boycott. Because she like seeing the Australians getting beaten at Newlands, but within a year or two, she said this has turned out to be a blood effective sanction in her own very words because it brought home to the White community here, who cared passionately about sports, how isolated they were that you know if they wanted to get back to international sport if they are going to have to change.

Barbara: It became a huge, monumental movement in everybody’s mind and Britain became very generous, O.R. Tambo went there, so many things were accomplished from there.

Robin: Well, what was important was the fact that we, you know many of the exiles were in London and we sought to protect them. In particular the metropolitan police sought to protect them from constant attacks by the regime to literally blow them up, as I said at the time you know there was this great myth here. Myth no1 is that the Queen called Mandela a terrorist, it is simply untrue, I defy anybody to, to give any to trace, any instance whatsoever when she declared Mandela a terrorist just to myth. When she saw P.W Botha this is before I was involved in 1984 she told him flatly Mandela has to be released and Namibia has to be free and that record by the way has just been published.

Then myth no.2 we weren’t talking to the ANC as I explained apart from the fact that I was talking to the whole ANC internally and I also used to see Tambo from time to time in London and now when Tambo came back to South Africa he was very, he was already ill and one of my more sort of officious overzealous Europeans colleagues went to meet him at the airport I didn’t cause I knew he’d be exhausted from the flight, and I was very touched about what my Swiss colleague come back and said, he said to me, no! I want to see our ambassador and that was me not because it was me though he knew perfectly well what I was trying to do but because the British had protected them, you know, the police and everybody else, many friends in London including many people in parliament and just many straight friends in Highgate where he and Adelaide lived and so I went the next day to see them in Soweto where Adelaide had already found some carrot cake, I don’t know where she got that from but she did.

Barbara: Also Thabo Mbeki and a huge amount of people were educated there, and then the next generation had a base there.

Robin: Well Thabo was educated at Sussex University and, and so you know very many people you know and Ronny Kasrils was in London a lot of the time and you name it, large numbers of people were, were, were based there or were constantly travelling through there.

Barbara: You know I think they got a world-view from there and also I was just wondering what the source was being for an average person of the English who were helping in that movement who gave heart and soul to you know march past the South African house in the freezing winter or something, how did they feel in the end? Did they sort of feel vindicated?

Robin: Of course they felt vindicated I mean they…Well the Apartheid, anti-apartheid movement was very strong in Britain and was supported by the church, was supported by the trade unions and so on. Before I came here you know the first two people I went to see were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Ramsey and the head of the TUC Norman Wes and I said to them please tell your contacts in South Africa that you know they, they ought to know, I was involved in the independence for Zimbabwe they ought know where I personally stand in all this, please tell them, which they did and you know I got a friendly reception from Archbishop Tutu and from Cyril Ramaphosa as a result.

Barbara: I’m just remembering the footage of Verwoerd pulling out of the Commonwealth, was that a relief?

Robin: Of course it was a relief, you know Verwoerd was, we had him, here at the time a very good ambassador called Sir John Redcliff-Maud, and he you know was a determined of opponent of Verwoerd, he was determined to, to protect what was then Bechuanaland, and Lesotho from this regime you know which at the time they were all trying to declare them as some sort of homelands as well and when Verwoerd had imposed all the surrenders legislation, there was a Common Wealth meeting he declared South Africa a Republic incidentally it was only voted through by a handful of votes and the Republic had to say it would like to continue in the Common World he found obviously the rest of the Common World didn’t want them to continue so he then made a kind  of nationalistic you know appeal about all that but there was no way they could have been kept in the Common Wealth, and it was an impossible situation nobody in the Common Wealth agreed with them at all.

Barbara: But there were many Black members in the Commonwealth from other countries…

Robin: Well yes but, but the White members didn’t agree, you know Canada, New Zealand, Australia and us were just as opposed to the system as the Black Commonwealth states were.

Barbara: So then when you welcomed them back in South Africa from the Common Wealth how was the reaction?

Robin: Well, it was so you know it was a very emotional thing, it was a very emotional thing for the Queen by the way because she came here as Princess Elizabeth before she became Queen in 1947 before the NATS took over there were no royal visits under the National Party regime at all actually as long as it lasted but then of course after the elections she came on, on a state visit here and you know it was some sort of an emotional reunion but you know throughout this period and to this day the, the relationship between Britain and South Africa is, is closer really than, than in terms of just the mass of contact across the board regularly you know all kinds of family connections and the rest then it is probably with  any other, any other movement you know Western country whatever you like to call it.

Barbara: In terms of international countries how did they see the history in contribution of the Frontline States?

Robin: Well the Frontline States, I mean everybody sympathized with them, as I have said you know the damage inflicted that on them by the Rhodesian dispute, the damage inflicted on them by Apartheid but where we did get frankly to be frank about it fed up with them was in terms of their own self-inflicted damage. Now take Kaunda for instance and Kenneth Kaunda was a lovely person unless you happened to be a political opponent in which case you got locked out in Zambia, Harry Nkumbula was his main opponent. He spent a lot of his time in jail and then you know he nationalized the corporate mines and then Helen Suzman visited him just there afterwards I’m certain she had a very nice reception.

She really liked Kaunda but Kaunda how was economic going to survive you know, again you know people who have been most bitterly disappointed of course by Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe was a flourishing country. Zimbabwe was a big exporting country in this, in this region and it remained so for the first 15 years after independence nearly 20 years until after Mugabe’s hold on to power threatened at which point you know he has trashed the economy in order to stay in power and has succeeding doing so and you know that is a great tragedy and you know at the moment the external perception of the Frontline States was, was quite positive in a sense that Zambia is doing much better, Botswana has always done quite well and Mozambique is doing better since people stopped supporting you know the civil war but, but Zimbabwe is a catastrophe and we all have to hope that all that we’ll change and of course one day it will change and when it does Zimbabwe will become a reasonably prosperous country again.

Barbara: I was… we are talking about the Frontline States in terms of what value culture it had and sort of making one personally feel that one can do something in South Africa, personally relate to what was happening in South Africa and Britain was almost nearly the best…

Robin: Well you know… well if you are a Black African and you are living next door to South Africa you want to see your fellow Black Africans in South Africa have the same rights you got and it was as simple as that, why wouldn’t they? And they knew that the outside world supported that point of view.

Barbara: Well Ok! I was really asking you there were Mandela concerts, there were plays, there were songs, radio, TV campaigns to bring down the heartless people of apartheid you know it was a bit of a struggle, so far away some of the place in the bottom of South Africa and how effective was that?

Robin: Well, all these, all these cultural events, you know, you know against apartheid, in support of anti-apartheid campaigners were a really holy good thing, you know they, they showed, well first of all, that was a running point for people who were against apartheid, in Britain, Ireland, America mainly which is where most of these events took place and they showed people cared about apartheid and wanted to get rid of it and you know, there was some very distinguished musicians who participated in these contest you know it was, all, it was all an admirable thing. It showed that people really cared about this horrible system and wanted to get rid of it and you know I don’t think that made quite as much impact you might think in South Africa itself but that wasn’t the point in my opinion, the point was to really rally support against apartheid and you know to some pressure on, on you know the British and American governments to do as much as they could to get rid of it.

Barbara: Oh it was such a beautiful thing that writers would write, singers would sing I mean to the point which people could use their feelings of human rights and inequity and put it in to practice in any way that was possible.

Robin: Yes of course you know, when Zimbabwe became independent I was heavily involved in that, there was a wonderful sort of Stevie Wonder song about Zimbabwe is now free you know goodness knows what he could sing to Zimbabwe today but nonetheless. Now these guys did, did make a contribution actually to try to raise the consciousness, to bring in what needed to be done, to show, show people that you know there was a huge amount of support out there for the movement against apartheid, the anti-apartheid movement itself became very sort of political thing and not everybody including me agreed with all other objectives or other tactics and nevertheless we were all anti-apartheid campaigners.

Barbara: Do you think there is a feeling that as they strategize the Frontline States with each other and their fairly independent states then it develop sort of into a habit, it develop sort of now into a SADC region, it developed sort of into AU, it sort of developed into Africans being able to come out with strategies and solutions?

Robin: Well it’s very important you know that Africa should come up with strategies and solutions because you know there is no appetite on the part of the external countries to really get involved except for the French who have helped to a limited degree in the SAHAWU recently in dealing with AL Qaeda good for them but you know we are not getting intervene and neither Northern America is not going to intervene in Southern Africa so it is up to SADC to deal with Zimbabwe and you know I don’t blame them in the sense that you know I know experience exactly how intransigent and quite diabolical  actually Mugabe is and just what I thought was autocratic regime they have there but the fact is nobody has yet resolved things in Zimbabwe by a very long way one day things will improve but it is very difficult for the SADC but you know it is a challenge they have to keep trying to tackle.

Barbara: But then from SADA this movement is, how do representatives come to a meeting trying to strategies each other as well also as the OU into the AU?

Robin: Well you know the AU is the successor of the OAU we all want to see African countries trying to deal with African problems like in the Central African Republic and so on, so all of that is a very good thing the, what the West can do is to provide logistics support you know which quite often if you send a king… if you ask a king in battalion or some other battalion to and help in the Congo or whatever it is you know if it needs logistic support, equipment, materials and all we can provide that but we are not going, we are not going to start intervening directly involving ourselves again.

Barbara: Do you know Pik Botha?

Robin: A great deal, yes obviously! You know Pik was Prime Minister when I arrived, he’s opening words to me was well that was a terrible thing you did in Zimbabwe and I said well you know the fact is they voted for Mugabe didn’t they? And he said well yes but it sets back the course of reform in South Africa by a long way and it probably did actually to some degree. Pik was always full of drama and he always had a sort of lock of black hair falling across his forehead and any meeting with him tended to take place over a bottle of whiskey but most rather more which is drank by Pik than by me but let me be quite clear about this, Pik you can, cannot of make fun of Pik and Pik was full of blaster and so on and so forth. Pik basically wanted to help achieve a peaceful change in this part of the world.

He made an enormous contribution to the Namibian settlement action, and Pik also did want and expected to be a new regime in South Africa and then or at least peaceful change in South Africa. So with all the drama, with all the history on it, with all the periodic eruptions I regarded Pik as an, as an ally within the South African government and he was an ally. You know I always had a real affection for Pik and you know we went through some quite bombastic sessions together but at the end of the day I believed Pik’s heart was in the right place.

Barbara: Most of people do seen to say they made, they disagree with him totally but they liken themselves.

Robin: Yes but you know, he, he, he you know he was a prisoner of his party and everything else you know I mean when P.W Botha, he was on an extremely time leash, on the Rubicon speech, Pik wanted a completely different speech, and Pik actually advertised a completely different speech which made it even worse when P.W Botha tore out the speech he was given and started waging his finger at everybody, that led to chase Manhattan, and the banks you know started withdrawing the credit lines so on and so forth. Pik was trying, was trying to achieve a change and certainly to resolve Namibia for instance.

Barbara: Ok there was a story, you had an earlier book about Margret Thatcher, about Pik and Margret Thatcher and he was in Namibia on the day… yes of the cease fire and it wasn’t happening and Pik sort of tried to get some of the UN to respond on they said oh no I can’t, tried to get someone else and they couldn’t respond either and Margret Thatcher saying you must get approval of before you do and he’s on the phone implying to people that she…

Robin: Yes… of the cease-fire… Yes… well it was a very dramatic evening there because the cease fire you know had broken down you know and then SWAPO ignored the terms of the cease fire which said that if you come cross the border you come without your weapons or rather when you come across the border you come without your weapons and sort of which armed colony marched across the border and you know going through the villages and so on. So you know by, by the afternoon it was the danger of the entire cease fire breaking down and the entire settlement collapsing.

So she said to it was a very gutsy UN representative Martti Ahtisaari who became the president of Finland and she and I both knew very well the UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar who also was an extremely courageous Secretary General far more courageous than most of his predecessors, predecessors by the way and she said right well Martti we have to get you the UN to authorize South African ground forces to stop on the incursions we can’t survive incursions and then the cease fire but we are not… I am not going to let them overreact and get wildly out of control. So we then went off to a meeting in the airport with Pik Botha who was ranting and raving and understandable because he was the architecture, one of the architectures of the settlement now breaking down the military in Pretoria.

And, and you know the Presidency in Pretoria was saying right you know we are going to find a sort of deal with all of these SWAPO people and they were you know they were a definitely considering air strikes against this colony so there was a 2 hour argument at the airport over the usual glasses of whiskey in which she said you know. I will get the UN Secretary General to authorize to stop incursions but if you use air strikes to do that the entire world will be against you led by me she said, you go and tell your friends in Pretoria, poor Pik went to tell his friends in Pretoria and comes back, continues this discussion went on for 2 hours until Denis Thatcher who was there you know, leapt to his feet said enough of this we are going home and in those circumstances she always jumped to her feet actually I mean but she clearly was tempted to stay, which she enjoyed running the affairs of Namibia so she was reluctantly ushered back into her plane and as I was going back to her airport I got a message, got it off an intern… I got a message from Pik saying the air strikes had been called off and you know the UN had authorized you know containment operations and so on. Well it was very fortunate she was there that day, I had asked her to come that day because I thought the cease fire would come up with a strain but I had no idea that we would be facing a general break down and you know when it was all over the SWAPO leaders thanked her you know because it was perfectly well that she helped to save the situation on that day.

Barbara: I wish there had been cameras there, I think that was the report of the press and it was a very tense moment.

Robin: Well one day I remember being summoned by Pik to his house in Pretoria and the government compound there, large bottle of whiskey on the table and I said hello you know evening Pik, what do you want to talk about, he said I’m going to expel the German ambassador, I said come on Pik, you know the German ambassador is a friend of mine. He is also a friend of yours, you can’t expel the German ambassador and he said half, an hour later he got on to some of the subjects he found but I enjoyed the sessions with Pik, I really did, you know he always ended up you know in quite a positive mood, he was very nice about me when I, when I left he, you know he was very sad, he said very nice things about what I tried to do to help… but you know I actually despite the sort of wild west nature of these conversations he was trying to do the right thing he really was, his deputy Neil van Heerden you know really deserves enormous credit by the way because he was a kind of calm version of Pik and you know always trying to get to the next thing.

Barbara:  For the rest of your colleagues in the diplomatic core what do they think about Pik and were they in some of the campfires and the braai sides and outsides…

Robin: we were in a privileged position really because of Thatcher I mean you know and they, they did think that if they were going to listen to anybody it probably better be Thatcher and but the German, my German colleague was influential here. He was called Armonk Stannite and, and my European colleagues did see things pretty much the way we did too and I mean we had a good group of people but they didn’t have much interface with the government as, as we did.

Robin: Yes! Thank you very much indeed, absolutely.

End of Interview




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