Viljoen reveals just how close SA came to war

By Max Du Preez Time of article published Mar 24, 2001

Share this article:

In 1993, former Freedom Front leader General Constand Viljoen mobilised between 50 000 and 60 000 armed Afrikaners in preparation for war with the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

"We had computers in all centres with the details of all the men we knew we could really rely on," Viljoen said when he revealed this week for the first time just how close South Africa had come to a full-scale war.

In January 1994, although Viljoen had met with ANC leaders and made an informal agreement with them, Nelson Mandela made a public statement that the ANC would never allow the creation of a volkstaat.

"My own followers started pushing hard: they wanted an end to all talks, they wanted the war to start," said Viljoen. At a huge meeting of rightwingers in Pretoria on January 29 1994, people shouted him down and chanted: "We want war!"

Viljoen then told the leadership: "You don't know what war is like. You don't understand the implications of war. If I can't say to myself, my God and my volk that war is the last way out, I will not make war.

"I am a militarist. I have experience of war. I knew that if we went over to military action, it would lead to an enormous bloodbath in South Africa. MK didn't waste their time - they had huge amounts of weapons stashed inside the country.

"It would have been a battle between us and the elements of the SADF that joined us, and MK and the remaining elements of the SADF. It would have been a bloody war."

And he was always reluctant about starting another boer war.

"I knew the price of war. It would have led to great suffering for my people and the other peoples in South Africa. It would have meant a disaster in the economy, and it would probably have lead to international interference.

"And then came the AWB gemors. We ordered Eugene Terre'Blanche to pull out , but he ignored us. His men behaved very badly. They drove into Mmabatho hurling hand grenades and shooting people.

"The anger in Mmabatho led to a mutiny, and the arms which the Bop army had to issue to my forces were handed out to the public. When my forces asked for their firearms, they were told they had been stolen. I had to pull back all my men to the airport. It was a damn disaster. I told my men to go home.

"But the effect it had on me was very important. I suddenly realised that I would find it very difficult to conduct a complicated military operation under these fluid circumstances without plunging the country into wholescale war.

"I knew for certain then that the political strategy was the only one left.

"I phoned the Mulder brothers from Mmabatho and said, 'We are going to register for the elections. Today.' It was now the only way. In that sense Mmabatho was a very important turning point."Sunday Independent 2001-03-24

Share this article: