The Presidential Years

The other one he was very hot on, maybe he was convinced by Rusty, but now I can see that it came from him, nobody had to convince him, that we could achieve a two China policy. In all our discussions with him, we said ‘You can’t achieve a two China policy’. We used to explain to him that the one China policy came through to the Americans, and that the Chinese, the PRC are just tolerating us, indicating that ‘Look, you’re a new democracy, we respect Mandela so we will tolerate this recognition of Taiwan and we will not establish full recognition, but we will not criticise you publicly and we will maintain the representative office.’

But he was always committed: the Taiwanese helped us so much with what they did, and he would not accept the argument that the Taiwanese helped every political party and that they were also very involved in the apartheid system. He would say, ‘No, no, no, we have received a lot of support’, and he had this mantra, that you can’t just desert friends. Then suddenly, and I am almost convinced that Nzo was as shocked as me when he summoned us to his house, to say, ‘No, now I think it’s time that we moved to the one China policy’. Next thing we find there is already media there that he is going to announce to. He wouldn’t have just done it spontaneously, he must have had discussions with someone, I am convinced, unless he had it with Alf and Alf never briefed me. I was there at the time and I was very actively involved and we argued this one China policy until it came out of ear holes in all the structures of the movement.

Madiba sent Thabo to China to explain the dilemma we faced. That’s when I saw the Chinese diplomacy and the power of Madiba’s own standing, this miraculous figure who they couldn’t publicly criticise. To be fair to them, they were patient with us. Nobody in the world could criticise him, most of the heads of state at that time grew up on the Madiba story of the leader who after twenty seven years doesn’t want revenge but wants reconciliation, Clinton and Blair were like putty in his hands, though I don’t think it was the same with all African leaders.

Aziz Pahad