PANEL DISCUSSION BETWEEN GEN. G MEIRING OF SANDF AND TRC PANEL
Dr Boraine: Gen. Meiring, on behalf of the Commission I would like to express our appreciation to you. You will appreciate more than most that the terms of reference and the period covered in relation to the Act which governs the work of the Commission is at present up to the 5th December, 1993 but I think it would have been totally amiss if we did not have your contribution today. Particularly as it describes to a cynical world, a cynical South Africa, sometimes, in the midst of so many problems that a genuine miracle occurred in our country. You are right of course, that without vision, commitment, hard work, patience and tolerance, none of that miracle would have been possible, it was a combination of forces which came together and created a new spirit in the SANDF which was markedly different if I may say so, from that in he past. We thank you also for reminding all of us that our approach is not one of revenge but one of seeking the truth in order that we can become the truly reconciled nation. Therefore the questions will be very limited and we will clearly have a much fuller presentation of what we can call the old SADF in a minute or two. But there may well be questions, either of clarification, there may be comments from my colleagues. I have one particular question that I would like to reserve that and rather defer to my colleagues before I proceed with that, so without any further ado let me at least find out if there are any questions before you leave.
Mr Potgieter: Gen. Meiring, you make the point on the first page of your submission that you have established a nodal point for the purpose of facilitating access to information in the possession (??) of the SANDF. Now, just as a matter of record, from your point of view, are there any restrictions placed on this exercise of gaining access to information and secondly from your perspective, is this working in practice, the nodal point and the efforts of the Commission to gain information that might be needed for our purposes?
Gen. Meiring: I think to start with the latter part of the question, yes I think after a few hiccups in the beginning the arrangements surrounding the nodal point and the rapport between the nodal point and the Commissioners’ research and investigating people are working well at the moment. Furthermore, the only restrictions that was required on this is that because of the SANDF being governed by its own acts in terms of clarity and in terms of giving information away everything not pertaining to those aspects which the Commission seeks to obtain information with will actually be classified and that the Commission is free to ask for any bit of information that we might possess and we will from a nodal point of view try and give all our efforts to make this possible. I think that we have already demonstrated that we can do this and I think the ongoing continued response between the nodal point and the investigating people will be good and will work according to the procedures that we have agreed to on both sides. Thank you.
Mr Potgieter: Just to be more specific General, in regard to an issue that enjoys our attention, the former Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB). From your perspective should there be any difficulty for the Commission in gaining access to records relating to that organisation.
Gen. Meiring: Sir, if records existed there would be no problem.
Dr Boraine: I think it may be useful for me to ask my question now because it really is a follow-up and if you will let me go ahead. You, yourself have just stated, Gen. Meiring that if the records exist then there should be no problem. And I think what has been a talking point for a number of years now is the question of documents which have been destroyed for one reason or another. Let me give you an example so that I link this not only with the Defence Force. We have received a memorandum from the minister Sydney mUFAMADI of Safety and Security informing us that after investigations conducted by his own staff they have discovered that there are thousands of documents which they thought were available are simply not there and were destroyed. Now if I recall correctly you gave evidence before the Parliamentary Committee where I think it was common cause that certain documents had been destroyed. Now clearly if those documents reflect any possible breach of discipline or of work beyond the call of duty if I may put it that way or it contained documents critical for the use of the Commission, this puts us in a very bad situation because we can’t do our work. Now in terms of the Act we are asked not only to gain access to any documents which may be available but also to record which documents have been destroyed and this is in terms of the Act and to try and ascertain who destroyed them, for what reason, under what procedure and under whose orders. Now it would be of enormous help to us if you could reiterate briefly what you stated before the Parliamentary Committee but to go, and I wasn’t there so I am not sure, you may have done it there as well, but for our benefit if you could outline why this was done, whether permission or…….it was done in consultation with the Director of the State Archives, thirdly whether certain procedures were followed and if so what procedures and fourthly under whose direction or who ordered you if you were responsible for this or those working under you were responsible for it, if you can give us some of those details.
Gen. Meiring: The destroying of documents is a difficult question to answer straight out…I am speaking from memory at the moment and if you so wish then I can give you a more comprehensive answer in writing, so if there are certain omissions out of my answer now I would gladly furnish them for you. But yes, there are a number of reasons why documents can and have been destroyed. First of all duplication of documents. If there are more than one document you can from the different Acts, destroy and leave only the original document available in the Archives because there are so many duplications of documents. So in that case documents were destroyed. Furthermore, certain types of information is only according to the Archives Act, being kept for a specific time, otherwise you will swamp the Archives with so-called not very useful information. Thirdly there were projects that according to the time after being investigated, specifically those under the Kahn Commission, the documents that were handed over to the Khan Commission I can’t speak for but those that still remained in the SADF at the time, after being fully audited by the Auditor General there was authority given to destroy those documents. I can’t now from memory tell you on whose authority, that was a procedural authority that this emanated from. I think that you might find some of those documents, although not in our possession, in possession of committees such as the Harmse or the Khan Commissions. Then also in view of not creating ill-feeling among members of the people of South Africa and also to protect lives, in the up-running to the elections certain documents were destroyed that reflected names of agents, names of people that supplied information for whatever reason to obviate the possibility of those persons finding themselves in a difficult situation after elections were taking place. So there were more than one reason why documents were being destroyed. But before I say something which can be denied later on let me please withstand with those and give you a better, more comprehensive answer in writing about this question.
Dr Boraine: Thank you if I can just take this a little further. In terms of legislation the Director of State Archives must prove the destruction of documents although there is a contradiction in that there is also legislation which enables the destruction of certain documents for the protection of identity of agents and lives of people. What I think concerns us is any decision taken in the lead-up during the negotiations, or immediately prior or particularly before the election which may have had a political motivation and so let me put the question quite bluntly, were you or any of your colleagues at any time as far as you are aware, ordered by any member of any political party other than within the normal ongoing work of the whole SADF or SANDF….. were you instructed to destroy certain documents and if so by whom and did you actually carry that out?
Gen. Meiring: No sir, we were never instructed by any political entity. Also the destroying of documents in the context which you point out, safeguarding lives, etc. were left to the Director Generals at the time, they had to do, and if they were not sure there was a commission that was called into life by the at that time Security Council who had to oversee should there by any doubt in the mind of that particular Director-General whether a specific document should be destroyed or not, that decision was taken then by that specific 3-man. I don’t remember who ………….but that 3-man commission looked into that. If they were not satisfied that they were able to give an answer it would have gone to the State Security Board……….but we were never given an instruction, nor would we have done it if we were asked by any political entities.
Mr Potgieter: General, you have mentioned the lawful route, you have mentioned the Archives Act, you have mentioned decisions that were taken obviously being regarded as lawful by the Defence Force but are there also indications that there was destruction of documentation and records unlawfully done in order to suppress information and if so are there any details about that?
Gen. Meiring: Not that I know of. We have made a list of the documents which were destroyed, of course not the contents thereof (otherwise there would be no way to do it) but we have made a list of the specific documents that were destroyed. We have not yet as far as I know come across a document that was destroyed of which we didn’t have a list and which of course then was not authorised, to put it in this way.
Ms Wildschutt: General in your submission you make reference to the fact that we were engaged in a war, in fact we were engaged in quite a protracted war and you also took us through the various descriptions of that war. I am sure many people in our country will agree that it seemed as though our country was at war with itself and that many of the victims and casualties of that war, whichever way one describes it, are in fact South African citizens. I would like to direct my question at the comment you made also in the submission about soldiering not being a selfish profession in that soldiering also, looking at the needs and dealing with the needs of people and you give examples of such types of soldiering elsewhere. Has the SANDF given the thought to the issue of redress and restitution, particularly with regard to the most, almost excellent, beyond comparison services you have, particularly in the SAMS, the SA Medical Service and I am particularly referring to resources for rehabilitation for example and perhaps to the fact that most of our people need emotional rehabilitation as well and that in your organisation it perhaps is the most grouping of psychological and social work services in your organisation if you were to look across the board in terms of medical service in our country. So really I am asking the question about the issue of redress in the fact that there are many resources within your organisation.
Gen. Meiring: The resources in the organisation exist basically for the mission and the purpose for which the organisation was brought into being but if you ask the question do we put the resources at the disposal of the people of South Africa if and when necessary, we do that, yes, because at many times where we are deployed in an internal peace-keeping role which we are at the moment doing to assist the SAPS, particularly in cases like the East Rand and Kwa-Zulu-Natal and also on the Border for protection. We deliver services to the community at those points in time. We have many times put at the disposal on very short notice, all our resources in times of crises and times when it is needed. It is difficult to think of any other organisation who could have done that because we existed for a primary role, we needed the resources to fulfil that role adequately when so requested to. Therefore we are also immediately available to put those disposals where needed, at the behest of saving lives and property and things like that, but we have not particular ability just to give disposals away if I can call it that. We batted for and we are responsible through Parliament for every cent that we have available. We do not budget for eventualities. We use what we have in time when an eventuality appears like the saving of lives or trying to save lives and subsequently assisting the people of the Republic of Tanzania in the capsizing of the boat on Lake Victoria. By coming to the aid of drought in terms of bringing water to the people in the Northern Province, building bridges when storms devastated them in Kwa-Zulu, Natal - I can go on ad nauseum but we use our collateral to put at the disposal of the people of the Republic and the spirit in which it is done is very much appreciated and I wish I could take you along just to see the thankfulness of the people when we do these acts of mercy that I can call.
Ms Wildschutt: I really appreciate your describing the humanitarian side of your organisation. Perhaps my question is related to the fact that as a nation we are all struggling how we can all deal with issues of redress, issues of reparation, the issues of reconciliation and moving on and so I guess my question is really related to how as a nation we can engage with the military and engage with your organisation in wrestling with how we begin to reconcile communities and reconcile people, and also to work together in ways in which we can begin to rehabilitate our country and individuals within our country and that’s the reason why I’ve put the question. I want to do it by way of a very small example. One of the people who comes before the commission lives probably a few kilometres away from the SANS rehab centre in Pretoria and this person needs the most sophisticated rehabilitation techniques etc. in order to be able to live a dignified and a meaningful life. And because in the surrounding areas the hospitals and the clinics do not have any rehab facilities, yet nearby there is a very excellent rehab facility. I struggled with how one can then engage with the military in order to ensure that the person who was indeed a victim of the war that you described in fact cannot be a recipient of the facilities that are available to other people within the Military, for example. So I give this by way of example.
Gen Meiring: I understand your question there very well - I’m at a loss really to give you a very good answer because what we do in this regard is putting those actions or those abilities truly and sincerely first of all at the disposal of soldiers in need because there is really from time to time quite stress amongst the people doing peacekeeping work from day to day looking after slaughters that happen in our certain areas. Coming across the most hideous acts that you can think of. We are definitely looking to rehabilitate our people. We are also working together as the country’s soldiers are really a micro-cosmos of the whole - to try through them to do reconciliation also among peoples and giving them the advice needed but we have not yet given enough thought to the question that you have asked now for outside people, outside the National Defence Force. I would like to look into this more clearly before I can answer that.
Dr Mogojo: I find this presentation very impressive ………….. but there are some of the things I needed to say in the presentation as there was a journey from the old dispensation to a new dispensation realised in the SANDF which we appreciate and their ………….theology………….forgive, forget, reconciliation etc. but what I find missing here is the word like repentance and confession because to put these different people together from diverse backgrounds, even the soldiers themselves coming from points of view just to say that we have …….….. and then you don’t hear about the process………that repentance has taken place, confession has taken place in order that we may have this peace and this reconciliation. That is number 1. And there is …….. a person who comes from what we call the Okros (?????)….. the Attorney-General people there. There is a General concerned. There is some of the people……..(TAPE CHANGED HERE) ….physically, maybe it comes nearer to what Glenda is saying. And these people are just sitting there in the townships and they say Why did we fight? We fought but we cannot be re-employed, we cannot be serviced because of what we find ourselves in now. Don’t you think there is a need of projects, especially in the townships, all the SANDF because there are perceptions about a soldier in the township. It does not matter what you say but I can see that you are in the present dispensation. When you say soldier in the township, even children run away when they say soldier, especially a white soldier. Maybe for this recon…….must not take this on the upper icons….it must come down and ……..and brought down to the ordinary people who have been very much affected by this type of ……..don’t you think that you need to employ certain projects to empower those who are down there, who have been affected by war in the old regime?
Gen. Meiring: Thank you sir, I take note of what you say. We have tried without trying to speak for the individual, to indicate that we as a national defence force coming together out of 7 constituent forces, regret the loss of life, the personal grief and sufferings of anyone across the country that has suffered as a result of this specific war that has ………. We also tried to indicate that we are putting at the disposal of the commission the specific ability to find out more about the past and to let people individuals, specifically after the facilitated presentation that would come to mind, have the freedom of action to come forth to give their support to the Commission. As about the different layers as to which we should strive to achieve reconciliation, I agree with you, we are giving this a lot of thought, trying to amend peoples throughout the layers of the hierarchy of the Defence Force as well as the peoples they are coming from. And I am glad to say sir we have signs that this is happening at the moment in time but we take to heart your comments and we will study them in detail to come forth with better solutions than the ones that we are doing now. Thank you.
Dr Boraine: Gen. Meiring, thank you for your presentation and thank you also for your readiness and willingness to openly respond to our questions. In concluding this part of the presentation could I take up your offer of making available to us additional information which may arise out of some of the questions from all of my colleagues and you will obviously delegate accordingly etc. But in particular you mention that the SANDF has a list of documents which have been destroyed, we have been very fortunate in getting that from the police side, if you could make that available through our normal contacts and liaison that would help us in our work and as I have indicated we are bound by the Act to make that available in our final report to the President so that would be of enormous help to us. I think it will be an ongoing saga about the whole question of certain documents which would have thrown light on particular incidences etc. but of course we are going to have another presentation and we will reserve any further questions and comments about that until in fairness we have heard that presentation.
On behalf of the Commission I would like to express our sincere appreciation to you for your presence, for your presentation for your readiness to answer questions and in thanking you I hope that the enormous task that you personally have and those who work with you at all levels, will successfully continue the start that you have made so that this country which has seen so much conflict internal conflict, division and even civil war will find itself a very much united, very reconciled country which can consolidate democracy and deepen the spirit of reconciliation for which we all work. Thank you very much.