Archive (Reagan Library)

South Africa: McFarlane email to White House (Vienna meeting with Pik Botha) [declassified 1999]

Document type: Declassified documents
Venue: USE Vienna? - White House
Source: Reagan Library (NSC African Affairs Directorate Box 91026)
Editorial comments:

The White House email system first became fully functional in April 1985. There was no spell check facility, so typos abound. In his memoir, Special Trust (1994) McFarlane recalls this meeting and notes that it bore no fruit because Foreign Minister Pik Botha’s concessions were overturned on his return to South Africa by the State President, P.W. Botha (see p311).

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 924
Themes: Foreign policy (Africa), Commonwealth (South Africa), British policy towards South Africa



Date and time 08/08/85 12:16:32


SUBJECT: Meeting With Pik Botha

I have just completed a 5 hour meeting with FM Botha. The exchange covered the entire gamut of internal and external issues on our agenda. The vast majority of the time was spent on the forthcoming announcement of “major reforms” next Thursday. There are four points to the announcement. All are cast in very general terms and thus the results depend less on what is said but on what measure of credibility is established by the government with blacks between now and next Thursday to give them a sense that the general pledges being made will indeed be carried out. The four points are as follows:

– All political entities which do not desire independence (read homelands) “must be accomodated.” This is a basic statement of intent to reverse the discredited policy of establishing homelands and to give those already established the chance to opt for integration back into “an undivided South Africa.”

– All people must enjoy citizenship. This is a commitment to restore citizenship to those in the so-called “independent states” from whom it had been removed.

– All citizens should have the ability to influence political decisions at the national level. This is a somewhat inflated expression for allowing all citizens to play a role in the formation of their own regional governments which would then participate in a sort of federal system. It is not one-man-one-vote but most leading blacks acknowledge that that is impossible at this time.

– Existing independent and self-governing states that chose to remain in that status would participate in a federal government.

These foundations objectives would be translated into concrete constitutional changes and new institutions through a negotiating process in which leading blacks would participate with Cabinet ministers. In a word, the SAG is making a promise of a good faith negotiating process in much the same way the Japanese government is promising us that they will proceed to open their markets etc. In short, it is a commitment to a process the results of which will not be known for some time.

The key question is whether or not black leaders will find it credible enough to step forward and join in. Botha laid out a game plan for major lobbying of blacks between now and the speech to engender positive statements from them immediately after the speech is given. He will meet with Tutu and other black leaders this coming Sunday. He has already received Buthelezi's support. He professed great optimism that he could garner this support as well as substantial criticism from the white community. And he expected that the blacks would indeed join in a negotiating process. After considerable probing on specifics, he acknowledged his personal commitment to act promptly, once the process starts, on one or two of the more important black grievances (e.g. ending influx control and releasing Mandela) and he as much as said that he would hint at these steps in private sessions with Tutu and others in advance so as to cement their support. Our people at the embassy and Chet are less sanguine that he will either offer them this much or that even if he does, that it will be enough. While not an expert, I must say that if Botha is as convincing to blacks as he was to me, he has a good chance of bringing it off.

[end p1]

In my presentation I went over the record of the President's strong support for them and the difficulty he faced because of it given the primitive understanding of the strategic stakes in our Congress and public at large. I went over the pending legislative measures and their likely future of successful enactment and possible override were they to be vetoed and made clear that the President would not necessarily be swayed from a veto just because of the prospect of an override. That said, I pointed out that measures such as they were proposing could alter the climate in the Congress, especially if they were well received by the South African black community. I then stressed the importance of the selling job they do behind the scenes with blacks between now and next Thursday. Botha clearly got the point and left saying that he had engaged a public relations firm to help out.

On the whole, it was worthwhile meeting. They understand fully the President's vulnerability on the issue and the likelihood that pressure will increase when school starts in the fall. They are extremely grateful and conscious of the need to be helpful both internally and with regard to Angola.

At the end, Botha gave a very impassioned explanation of the alternatives. He states that this is clearly as far as the government can go now. In his judgment, if they refuse to join and the ANC steps up its attacks, there will ensue a bitter war with massive loss of life. They are confident they will win and are braced for the international costs of doing so.

P.S. Please convey this to the President and the Vice President and Don Regan asking that they not share it with anyone. Many thanks.

P.P.S. I should also have noted that one of the early steps they are considering is the dissolution of the President's Advisory Council and the establishment of new one with Black membership. Most Africa watchers from our embassy believe that could very well received.