frontline: the long walk of nelson mandela
husband & lover

Neil Barnard INTERVIEW EXCERPT

He helped arrange secret talks with the imprisoned Mandela on behalf of the government.
You used the word that you were "developing" Nelson Mandela. This is an interesting word to use. One expression of that was your decision that you had to dress him in a certain way and give him a certain environment where he would feel comfortable. Now, into those calculations of ... grooming him ... Mrs. Mandela must have come into the equation ... Can you offer me any thoughts on that?

You touched once again a very fundamental point. Remember, Mr. Mandela was in prison for 27 years. In a matter of time he would be released. There would be a process leading up to a democratic election. It was quite clear at the time, he would become the next leader of this country, the next president. There shouldn't be any doubt about that, even at that time, although many politicians in power differed from me, but that's not the point now.

How do you prepare him for a role on the world stage, for traveling around? I recall that many times I told him, "Mr. Mandela, governing a country is a tough job. It's not like, with a lot of respect, sitting in London in a hotel and drinking Castle beer from South Africa and talking about government. Government is a tough job, you must understand that it is difficult." We had to prepare him for that whole exercise.

... Kobie Coetsee ... had been critically involved in the view that we have to prepare Mr. Mandela for life after prison, being the leader of our country, being a man, a myth, who is now free and who can, perhaps, create a new image of an Africa ... So Kobie Coetsee was responsible as far as I can recollect. Let's now move Mr. Mandela from Pollsmoor to Victor Verster. Why? So that he can live in a normal house, so that he can gradually prepare himself for life after prison ... so we were busy creating a kind of atmosphere where Mr. Mandela could stay and live in at least as normal a surrounding as possible.

Against that background, remember that Mrs. Mandela was visiting Mr. Mandela from time to time. We made a proposal to him ... that we believe that it will be fitting if she could come and stay with him so that he could gradually become accustomed to a new and a normal and a proper way of life. I think Mr. Mandela was really looking forward to that. As far as I recall, the reason why it never happened, was because Mrs. Mandela was just not willing to do that, using the argument that it would not be proper for him to have his wife in a house at Victor Verster, while the other people still in prison ... were not allowed the same kind of opportunity.

We tried to do the best we could ... to gradually introduce Mr. Mandela into a normal way of life, because that would have been important for the development of a man who was destined to become a very important political role player in the country and outside as well ...

... you had these one-on-one meetings with Mr. Mandela about his state of mind towards his wife, at that time.

Most of the discussions on Mrs. Mandela between Mr. Mandela and myself took place in private between the two of ourselves. I must say that I honor him for even being informed by me that there is a lot of difficulties with Winnie, with the soccer club, with Stompie, with the security police, and other matters as well.

He always very strongly took the line, "Dr. Barnard, remember, she is my wife. I married her. I have a responsibility towards her. And like any good husband, I have to fulfill my duty as a husband towards her." That was very impressive in my mind. It was always a very difficult conversation.

Gradually, I think Mr. Mandela came to at least honor my views, and still to this day he knows that when he talks to me he will get non-political answers. Perhaps some very straight answers, which politicians don't like. I see that as the important role of somebody not involved in politics--to tell the king when the king is naked from time to time ...

But the more we talked about that, I got the impression that he believed that I was trying to help him in a difficult situation against the background once again of Mr. Mandela certainly becoming the leader of this country. And of his wife going through a very tough and a very difficult time, but she was also at the time destined to become the mother of the nation. All South Africans, I believe, would have liked to be proud of her. And certain irresponsibilities from her side, let me put it that way, were not in the interest of Mandela himself, or the coming process itself ... So without pretending to be angels or anything like that, there was never by any stretch of the imagination, an effort from our side to try to use this rather sensitive and difficult issue to the detriment of Mr. Mandela in any way whatsoever. We were, in actual fact, trying to handle it is such a way that it could be supportive of the whole idea.

Why wasn't Mrs. Mandela charged? ... Clearly the state had access to a great deal of information, and that there were a number of people ... who were being arrested on ... less information than the state had on Mrs. Mandela ...

The best way to answer that is ... how can you negotiate with a man, Mr. Mandela, becoming the leader of the country, on the one hand, and on the other hand, act, in such a way, against his wife ... he would become distrustful of what we were trying to do. So the line you're taking is quite correct. There was not necessarily a way of manipulating the law or whatever. It's one of those curious historical inevitabilities, if I can put it that way. You just have no other option. So yes, I wouldn't like to go further at this stage than to say that the government was extremely careful in the way in which we handled this situation with Mrs. Mandela, because of the reason which I've explained.

You were very much at the gestation of a negotiated settlement, what perils did Winnie pose to the success of the process unfolding the way you would have liked to seen it?

I've met Mrs. Mandela only very briefly. Without a shadow of doubt, she has a lot of charisma and a lot of political acumen. I am certain that she can play a very important role in this country's history. She has done that already, but she certainly can do that in future as well. Obviously, the view would have been to bring her into the equation in such a way that she could play a stabilizing role ... it would have been better for the whole process to keep her within the process in some way or another.

You must never forget that as difficult as it has been on the South African government side [during] the '80s to convince the so-called security forces that there is only one way now, and that is try to find a negotiated settlement. The same difficulties the ANC had at the time, convincing MK and others. Perhaps, more difficult even ... they had to convince these people living under very harsh circumstances in so-called frontline states ... and the so-called camps of the ANC. How do you convince these people that the struggle is over ... We had to find a negotiated settlement. So yes, it was quite a difficult issue to handle it both ways.

You developed quite a personal rapport [with] Mandela ... When the divorce happened, indeed, when Nelson Mandela had that very dramatic press conference when he announced the separation and the divorce ...

... On the issue of the divorce, it was a pity, I thought at the time, and I sensed a man who had a difficult relationship with a woman whom he quite clearly loved. It must have been extremely difficult for him. I still, to this day, believe that maybe in the future we will come to realize that it might have been better if the two of them could have stayed together in the interest of our country. I am talking a long term view. I am not looking one year and three years and five years ahead ... But it happened. I think it was handled quite professionally from both sides ...

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