Ambassador David Steward was an eyewitness to history. He was the Chief of Staff to President F. W. De Klerk as De Klerk brought an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa. Both De Klerk, and Nelson Mandela who succeeded him as President of a South Africa in which all races were allowed to vote, won the Nobel Peace Price.
The interview, conducted on the phone with Amb Steward, begins with a brief discussion of the history of South Africa. The country was first settled by the Dutch in 1652 in the city that would become Capetown, South Africa. Later, like in Manhattan, the Dutch were displaced by the British in 1795. Subsequently, many white South Africans of Dutch descent (Boers as they were known) entered into the interior of the country to escape British rule. This was known as the “Great Trek” in South African history.
The British fought two major “Boer Wars” against these Dutch descendant settlers in 1880 and 1889. The British won control of the country through these conflicts, and fights with black tribes like the Zulu Wars in 1879.
The British eventually allowed self-governance in South Africa for the white population under British rule. In 1948 an independent South Africa set up the system of apartheid, which means separate in the Afrikaans language (the language of the Boers). Only white people were allowed to vote in South Africa prior to 1994, the majority black population had no voting rights.
President F. W. De Klerk became President in 1989. He released Nelson Mandela in 1990 and began negotiations to allow free elections allowing all races a right to vote. These elections occurred in 1994, with Nelson Mandela then becoming President.
Some of the tensions discussed in the interview was Mandela’s anger, prior to him becoming President, at secret funding by the South African Government of the Zulu’s Inkatha Party. This was done by elements of the apartheid government to create chaos, and weaken the African National Congress (ANC), which was Mandela’s party.
Also, the security situation facing South African in the 1980s is discussed. The main threat was a communist state in Angola, with the strong support of the Soviet Union and tens of thousands of Cuban troops stationed there, trying to spread a communist revolution into South Africa.
The leader of the opposition in Angola was Jonas Savimbi, who both South Africa and the US supported. Ambassador Steward discusses how the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the defeat by South Africa of these communist proxy forces in Africa, allowed for the negotiations to end white rule. He also discusses the influence the communist party had on the ANC.
The end of the communist threat also paved the way for South Africa to dismantle their 6 nuclear weapons, as Amb. Steward discusses. When this occurred, under President De Klerk, it was the first time in history that a country which had organically developed nuclear weapons on their own had dismantled them.
Amb Steward then discusses the future of South Africa. Some of the challenges faced by South Africa include widespread corruption (especially under the last President Jacob Zuma), high crime, and poor economic policies.
The interview concludes with Amb Steward’s opinion of allegations made against the former South African Defense Minister Malan in the book “The Lost Boys of Bird Island” whose co-author recently mysteriously died. Also discussed are the abuses of Eugene De Kock, a former assassin active under the apartheid government. Mr. De Koch killed over one hundred opponents of the government as the head of “C-10”, an infamous unit operating on behalf of the government.