Opening Pandora’s Apartheid Box – Part 25: Stumbling on the Banks of the Rubicon
By Mike Smith
22 March 2011
22 March 2011
Many people today think that Apartheid ended on the 2nd of February 1990 when De Klerk made his speech to unban the ANC, the SACP and to release Nelson Mandela, but this was just the conclusion to some decisions that were taken much earlier.
Apartheid officially ended on the 2nd of August 1985 in an old observatory in Pretoria.
Our story left off the last time with P.W. Botha who started the great betrayal of the whites of South Africa.
We will pick up the story again in 1985, when P.W. Botha was about to deliver his disastrous “Rubicon Speech” on the 15th of August of that year.
The speech is today fully attributed to P.W. Botha, but in fact he never wrote the original speech himself. The story of South Africa’s Rubicon is a fascinating one.
In September of 1984 violence erupted in the black townships after the ANC and Marxist agitators introduced their “People’s War” and stepped it up.
In July 1985 a state of emergency was declared as a short term measure, but it became clear to the NP that more long term solutions needed to be found for black inclusion in politics in South Africa.
This obviously excited the investors and creditors of South Africa.
It is said that a banker lends you an umbrella when the sun is shining… and then wants it back when it starts to rain.
This is exactly what happened in March 1985 when Chase Manhattan Bank led a string of other banks to the South African Reserve Bank and demanded their money back…immediately.
Economic pressures and threats of disinvestment were the order of the day. One company after the other, from Kodak, to Mobil and Barclays bank started to withdraw from South Africa.
In the days running up to the Rubicon Speech, Foreign Minister Pik Botha was assigned to go state South Africa’s future course in Europe and former UN ambassador Carl von Hirschberg was assigned to do the same in the Far East. Neil van Heerden a senior Foreign Affairs official was assigned to prepare African leaders for the speech.
Von Hirschberg had to wait several days for a flight to Taiwan and Japan. During this time he decided to write a ten page draught speech for President P.W. Botha.
But why did Von Hirschberg have this sudden urge to write a speech for the president?
A few days prior to him writing the speech, on the 2nd of August, a secret, clandestine meeting of the National Party, took place in Pretoria in a building called the Ou Sterrewag (Old Observatory), which served as a conference facility for Military Intelligence.
What the crux of that meeting was is still shrouded in mystery and probably only known to the attendees at the time. According to an interview with Chris Heunis, conducted by his son twenty years after the event, the main decision was to include blacks in the cabinet.
According to F.W. De Klerk who was one of the attendees of the meeting at the observatory, the meeting took certain decisions to enable Chris Heunis to embark on a new initiative in negotiations with blacks.
De Klerk describes the Sterrewag decisions as the end of the whole ideology of grand apartheid and as an initiative that had the potential of persuading the world that real change was underway. Noted in an article by historian Herman Gilomee on Politics web 20th of August 2008
In the same article Gillomee stated that Carl von Hirschberg, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, recounted:
"When I met Pik in his office after the Sterrewag meeting, he was bursting with enthusiasm. He could hardly contain himself. It was his account of the policy changes agreed to at the meeting that I used in the draft I prepared as an input for PW Botha's Durban speech. It is my clear impression that PW had agreed to these changes, so I was not particularly concerned that he might reject them."
These National Party conspirators, including the President himself, unanimously and without the knowledge of the public that voted them into power, decided to end Apartheid and hand the country over to Marxist terrorist Blacks.
They wanted to make this public in a speech by the president at the congress of the National Party (NP) of Natal on the 15th of August 1985 in Durban. The emissaries such as Pik Botha and Von Hirschberg had to go out and prepare the world for this speech.
The Rubicon Speech was intended to in part diffuse the township violence that showed no signs of abating and also to preclude the adoption of tough sanctions by the USA and other industrial nations against South Africa. In the end it had the opposite effect.
Whilst in Europe, Pik Botha basically promised the world that Apartheid has come to an end and that it will all be made known in a speech by President P.W. Botha. Foreign minister Pik Botha was just relaying the decisions that were taken at the secret meeting held at the Ou Sterrewag, but he was not sure if the president would eventually include it all in his speech.
Nevertheless, according to Werner Scholtz, a South African diplomat who attended the briefings in Europe, "Pik Botha spoke with great enthusiasm and several times said: Gentleman, we are crossing the Rubicon".
What happened next is described by Les de Villiers in his book “In sight of surrender” page 88.
“On Friday morning 9 August 1985, when he arrived back in South Africa, Pik Botha was met by Von Hirschberg, and his deputy minister Louis Nel. Together they proceeded to the VIP lounge at Jan Smuts Airport and reviewed the speech draft. Botha made a few changes. Over coffee that morning the foreign minister inserted the following line of his own: “I believe that we are today crossing the Rubicon. There can be no turning back”. This, he felt would dramatize what was bound to be a momentous and dramatic break with the past and the beginning of a new era of race relations.”
Enters F.W. de Klerk.
At the time he was the NP leader in Transvaal and also the minister of Education and development. In 1985 de Klerk was seen by the political scientist Robert Shrirre as the “main conservative obstacle in the cabinet”.
That is right. The man we today view as a liberal traitor in the NP was once one of the most conservative.
The full role of De Klerk in the Rubicon speech has never been established but it is rumoured that he played a major role in diluting and watering it down. As I have said, he was one of the attendees at the Sterrewag on 2nd of August 1985, but did not like the new direction that was decided upon.
Allister Sparks wrote an article in the Washington Post of 19 August 1989 in which he says, “ De Klerk is said to have pressed Botha into drafting his so-called Rubicon speech in 1985, a defiant warning that he would not change the white minority’s hold on the country.”
It is not sure why president P.W. Botha decided to change his mind. Some say he was angered by the speculation of the press making expectations after the Sterrewag meeting, some say he was upset with Pik Botha’s over-enthusiasm and “over-promissing” to European and American emissaries.
On the late afternoon of Saturday the 10th of August, P.W. Botha told Chris Heunis that he was not prepared to make a “Prog-speech”…referring to the liberal opposition Progressive Federal Party.
On the 14th of August, a day before the Rubicon speech, President P.W. Botha summoned some cabinet members to a meeting. De Klerk would state later:
"That morning PW Botha demanded to know who was involved in providing inputs for the speech. He picked up all the inputs and threw them on the table."
He then said:
"I will not make that speech. I shall make my own speech."
He then read them a speech that was compiled by Daan Prinsloo who was an official in his office. It had some of the elements and recommendations made by ministers Pik Botha, Chris Heunis and Barend du Plessis. The introductory comment warned about raising expectations too high.
The cabinet was gob smacked, stunned into disbelief.
Chris Heunis later told his son in an interview, "We sat there like a bunch of little children, listening to him reading his speech to us. No one protested, in fact everyone nodded in agreement."
On the 15th of August in front of a capacity crowd in Durban, screened live to a world audience of more than two hundred million, P.W. Botha delivered his final speech and said that he “was not prepared to lead White South Africans and other minority groups on a road of abdication and suicide.”
He further said,” Destroy White South Africa and our influence, and this country will drift into factional strife, chaos and poverty.”
"Don't push us too far", he warned at one point with a wagging finger, confirming the stereotype of the ugly, staunch and irredeemable Afrikaner.
P.W. Botha had poor communication skills. After the Rubicon speech, the press dubbed his ramblings the Rubik’s Cube because it puzzled the world.
Instead of crossing the Rubicon, P.W. Botha got cold feet, made an about turn and headed straight back for the Laager.
Later on, both Pik Botha and Carl von Hirschberg said, that of the original draft speech only one line remained, that of the reference to “crossing the Rubicon”.
The speech was completely rewritten by Daan Prinsloo and P.W. Botha.
On 17th September 1992 Pik Botha released the original draft to “The Star” and claimed that “he wrote it”…an obvious lie. Von Hirschberg wrote the original draft. Pik only added one line.
Nevertheless he said that if P.W. Botha delivered the speech in its original form, Nelson Mandela would have been released five years earlier.
The world wanted reforms. They wanted blacks in power. P.W. did not deliver. The world felt tricked by Pik Botha who promised them Apartheid was about to be ended and P.W. Botha who refused to cross the Rubicon.
Within weeks after this disastrous speech about 430 International Banks came knocking at the door of Gerhard de Kock, at the time governor of the SA Reserve Bank…all wanted their loans back immediately…threatening to seize South African assets abroad.
The South African situation was dire. It was only the Swiss Banker Dr.Fritz Leutwiler who saved South Africa from total bankruptcy back then.
The results of the Rubicon speech was an $11 million dollar outflow from South Africa in the years 1985-1988.
Les de Villiers write on page 96 of “In sight of surrender”…
“In a matter of only five years since 1985, South Africa lost 25 billion rand that would otherwise have been available for housing, education, hospitals and other social programs.”
Dr. Chris Stals, the later governor of the Reserve bank concluded; “ The post-Rubicon events of 1985 had a devastating effect on the South African economy and contributed largely to unemployment and unrest.”
The Rubicon Speech was one of the greatest watershed moments in South African Politics. Instead of diffusing the violence, the sanctions and the disinvestment campaign, it stepped it up a few notches.
Today it is difficult to understand what went through the mind of P.W. Botha at the time.
He was the one who started the ball rolling towards black inclusion in politics called “Power sharing” and the ending of Apartheid. He created the Tricameral Parliament and included Coloureds and Indians in the government of South Africa. He scrapped several Apartheid laws such as the mixed-marriages and immorality acts, and later the Group Areas Act as well as the influx-control measures.
Delivering the original Rubicon speech and handing over the country to blacks would have been a natural progression of his policies. It was a fait accompli…Alea iacta est! Why did he decide on a 180 degree turn?
It could be that he realized that he would lose his power to a black president and wanted to cling to power. Maybe he was afraid of a Communist invasion and violent pogrom.
Robin Renwick, British ambassador to South Africa, maintains that the security chiefs had persuaded the president to enforce the status quo with strict security measures.
Businessman, Anton Rupert speculated that a critical intervention was a threat by De Klerk, Transvaal NP leader at the time, to withdraw his party from the NP’s parliamentary caucus. Today it is incomprehensible to think that it was the conservative De Klerk who held P.W. Botha back on the banks of the Rubicon. One can only speculate.
All it did was to delay the inevitable by four years, at a cost that almost destroyed South Africa.
On exactly the same day (15th of August) four years later in 1989, F.W. de Klerk became the new State President after P.W. Botha was forced to resign by his co-conspirators of the Ou Sterrewag.
Almost immediately after coming to power F.W. de Klerk started stepping on the dagger that P.W. Botha originally inserted into the backs of the white South Africans…
F.W. de Klerk finally started implementing the treacherous decisions taken at the Old Observatory on that fateful day of the 2nd of August 1985…but more about that in the next edition.
• “In Sight of surrender” by Les de Villiers, 1995