Apartheid speech came as big surprise
The Rubicon speech was received with great dismay by South Africa's diplomats, writes Pieter Wolvaardt.
In "<a href="http://mg.co.za/article/2012-10-26-00-the-day-apartheid-started-dying" target="_blank">The day apartheid started dying</a>" (November 1), your edited excerpt from Hermann Giliomee's book dealing with the Rubicon speech by PW Botha, reference is made to the fact that "inputs from foreign affairs [into the speech] had been gutted".
Some of the inputs by officials in the then department of foreign affairs are included in volume three of the diplomatic trilogy From Verwoerd to Mandela: South African Diplomats Remember, published this year. It contains frank recollections of more than 100 former South African diplomats on many issues.
The Rubicon speech was received with great dismay by South Africa's diplomats. A senior diplomat who made a substantial contribution to the draft speech wrote: "When I got back from the East, I listened to the speech on the radio and was appalled at what I heard. So was the minister …
"Then the letters started coming in: from Thatcher, Mitterrand, Kohl, Reagan and a whole bunch of others, expressing dismay at the tenor and content of the speech and highlighting the pressures they were being subjected to to intensify sanctions."
One diplomat, who was listening to the speech with other colleagues in Pik Botha's office, said that "there was total shocked silence in the room – the speech had been substantially watered down. The minister was devastated … What followed was international condemnation, allegations of intransigence, stubbornness and warnings of dire consequences."
Diplomats had to deal with these consequences over a long time. Giliomee quotes Pik Botha as saying that the then minister of finance phoned him to say South Africa was "facing inevitable bankruptcy". Another senior diplomat describes this with a bit more colour in the trilogy, speaking of Dr Gerhard de Kock and Dr Chris Stals of the Reserve Bank and the minister of finance "sitting in the president's office, in sackcloth and ashes". – Pieter Wolvaardt, Grahamstown