Cape Town - An apparent former Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) commandant has spoken out for the first time about what transpired between hundreds of the rightwingers and Nelson Mandela when they unexpectedly confronted him in Beaufort West about farm murders.
This week, the 52-year-old man from Cape Town, who declined to be named as he was ashamed to be associated with the AWB, said he had been present during a momentous October 1993 confrontation at the Hotel Oasis between Mandela and AWB leaders.
The incident was publicised for the first time last week when the Cape Times ran an account of it, quoting Jeremy Vearey, now a police major-general, who was a member of Mandela’s bodyguard unit in the 1990s.
This week, the man said he had felt the need to speak out after reading the article.
He said the Beaufort West incident had nothing to do with disrupting ANC campaign meetings, but was a secret mission focused on alerting Mandela to the murder of farmers.
“In that period there were a lot of white farmers being murdered.
“We wanted to instruct him that should another farmer be killed, this is what the conclusion could be.”
He said had farm murders not decreased, the AWB had plans involving violence.
“The top structures found (Mandela’s visit to Beaufort West) was the moment and opportunity to address him… We went up in vehicle convoys. Every single one of us was dressed in uniform. We were all armed,” the man said.
AWB members had then followed Mandela from a Beaufort West airstrip. “We had him monitored… We were a large contingent,” the man said.
He said by 3am scores of AWB members were stationed in front of Hotel Oasis in anticipation of Mandela’s arrival.
“(Mandela) came in through the back entrance into the hotel. The front was manned by the AWB.”
The man said a deputation of AWB members, including a general from the Eastern Cape, two head commandants from the Western Cape and himself, a commandant, had been allowed to address Mandela.
“He was truly a gentleman. When I stood and watched, I was standing to one side. I thought to myself: ‘What is this all about? He is treating us with respect.’ “
The man said Mandela who, he recalled, was casually dressed, had graciously listened to the AWB members.
“Mr Mandela was very polite. There was no animosity from either side.”
The man said the only violence that occurred that day was a scuffle between black residents and AWB members in an underground parking area. But the situation was quickly calmed.
The AWB members returned to Cape Town.
After the meeting, the man noticed “a sudden decline” in farm murders. “I believe Mr Mandela put a stop to it.”
He said three months after the encounter, he resigned from the AWB. “That’s an era in my life I’m embarrassed to have been part of. I regret it.”
This week, Vearey, who had said the ANC’s intelligence wing had got wind of the AWB’s plans in Beaufort West, said he viewed the incident as “an operational issue” and not a personal matter.
He recalled a young member of the AWB being among those present when the leaders addressed Mandela.
“If a man like that can change, it’s fantastic.”