The Presidential Years

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SASS from very early on, especially under Thabo’s tutelage, was very much involved in conflict resolution, particularly in the Great Lakes. Most of our interactions, Billy and I, were with Thabo. I was busy with my interactions with Thabo on the Zaire process, for example, when Madiba made a blunder. Thabo was overseeing the negotiations – and SASS was involved – as Kabila was advancing, to persuade Mobutu to step down, and they were very delicate. Mobutu‘s condition for even participating in these talks was that they should not be made public. One of the leaders from the region (Museveni may be) met with Madiba and at a photo opportunity on the steps of Tuynhuys he made a little speech saying that we were facilitating negotiations and completely messed up the very delicate arrangement with Mobutu.

There was Nigeria. When Madiba got angry at the Commonwealth summit in New Zealand when Sarowiwa was hanged, and relations between Nigeria and South Africa went down the drain, Billy Masethla and I think Super Moloi and myself were sent as an intelligence back channel to try and fix things with the Nigerian government.

And there was the fall out that Madiba had with Mubarak. We had to try to use the intelligence services.

There was a lot of that kind of work, I suppose very much influenced by Thabo’s approach to conflict resolution and peace-making.

I don’t know to what extent Madiba was in the know. That would depend on what Thabo was telling him, I suppose. At the time the president and deputy president’s office were more separate, they had their own DG’s.

The intelligence services and in particular SASS played a strong role and had strong views about regional integration and co-operation and so on.

But also, we were trying to shift the balance we had inherited away from the old regime’s foreign relations intelligence profession which was tilted towards Europe and the Americas.

Barry Gilder
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