238. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Amb. R. F. Botha, Ambassador of Republic of South Africa
  • Amb. William E. Schaufele, Jr., Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
  • Frank G. Wisner, Director, Office of Southern African Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • Southern Africa

[The Secretary and Ambassador Botha conferred alone for two minutes and then admitted the others.]

Kissinger: I just thought before I left we could have a brief discussion. Where do we stand?

Schaufele: Richard is in Nairobi. Nkomo hasn’t got back from West Africa.

Wisner: Ghana.

Kissinger: What is your assessment, Mr. Ambassador?

Botha: Have you been informed of what transpired between my Prime Minister and Richard?

Kissinger: I’ve heard three versions. Richard’s version to our people, Richard’s version to London, and yours by phone. Could we have the correct version now?

Botha: Mr. Fourie and Dr. Muller were there, and I informed my Prime Minister fully on our last meeting, the breakfast we had before Christmas.2 I made it clear to my Prime Minister that you had sent messages to Nyerere and Kaunda trying to remind them of what they had said. I made it very clear you did what you could, but when President Ford lost the election, you no longer could affect the situation.

The Prime Minister asked me about the policy of the new administration. I told him I’d seen Mr. Vance but it was too early to tell. He said they were still studying. He did say—I won’t read too much into it—that they would take positive note of any constructive role we played on Rhodesia and South-West Africa.

[Page 707]

Kissinger: That’s a good position for him.

Botha: That’s what I told my Prime Minister.

I was in a position, from what you and Ivor told me, to tell him the outline of the plan.

Kissinger: Did he present the outline of the plan I gave you?

Botha: Yes, the same plan. He didn’t deviate from it. He even improved on it a bit.

Kissinger: In what way?

Botha: The powers of the Resident Commissioner, the powers of the National Security Council. He gave the impression that once you get down to those details, there was scope for negotiation.

The Prime Minister didn’t react as if he, John Vorster, had to give an opinion on the merits, but he gave the Rhodesians’ reaction. He told Richard the Rhodesians would not easily accept the fact of a British Commissioner. Also the Council of Ministers was a weakening of the previous position.

Kissinger: I didn’t think it was all that different. It has a blocking mechanism.

Botha: Now you need the Resident Commissioner to vote with the whites to have a blocking mechanism.

[Page 3 of the original is missing.]

Schaufele: Yes, the outline.

Kissinger: The second point is how it evolved and how it was handled. We gave it to the British High Commissioner every day.

We did permit Smith to add the two white ministers and a white chairman. Because from the reaction of Kaunda and Nyerere, we thought it was negotiable and it was better for him to come out with it then and not surface it later at Geneva and break up the conference and have the United States accused of making secret deals.

Botha: Richard, in the course of the conversation, confirmed that you had sent messages to Kaunda and Nyerere.

Kissinger: However we got there, I think we’re now at the point where Annex C is not achievable.

Botha: My Prime Minister told him straight that Geneva was badly handled. He also told him he was very upset by the United States, Britain and France’s vote in the Security Council on the charges brought by Lesotho.3

Kissinger: Was it factually incorrect?

[Page 708]

Botha: It was.

Schaufele: The dispute lies largely in the Lesotho interpretation of the border arrangements, and they don’t recognize Transkei. There is no dispute really over the facts, but over the interpretation.

Botha: They claim their supply lines were cut. This is untrue. They can cross the border; they don’t want to submit identity documents to Transkei officials. They don’t recognize South West Africa either, but we have Zambians in the hospital there. Nowhere in the world is it a big thing to show identity documents. They want money at our expense.

My Prime Minister said, “Why couldn’t we have a fact-finding mission?”

Kissinger: It was never brought to my attention.

Botha: He told Richard: “Any black African state can say anything and you believe it and that is it and you’ll even pay. If that is so, my constructive role in Southern Africa is over.”

I’m afraid that sole incident really contributed very negatively to that discussion. In the end, Ivor asked my Prime Minister: “If I go north and get certain commitments and achieve something that achieves what Dr. Kissinger had in mind—majority rule in two years and assurance for the whites, and that the war will stop—will you listen again to me and talk again to Smith?” My Prime Minister said he would seriously consider it but couldn’t commit himself at this stage.

Kissinger: Didn’t he say “bankable assurances?”

Botha: Here are the notes: “Richard: ‘Suppose I get assurances from the frontline Presidents that the war is off, would you go to Rhodesia again?’ Prime Minister: ‘I will seriously consider it but can’t commit myself at this stage.’”

Kissinger: Ivor was going to go to Maputo, then Salisbury, then Capetown. We told the British this was insane because Smith would almost certainly turn him down and that would make it harder for the Prime Minister—assuming your Prime Minister wants to.

Botha: My Prime Minister hasn’t spoken to Smith.

Kissinger: Your Prime Minister is handling Smith right. The time to see Smith is when everyone else has agreed.

I saw Mark Chona yesterday.4 He claims it is British hesitation and cautiousness that got us into this mess, and I’m inclined to agree. He says the blacks have accepted this plan as a basis for discussion at Geneva, but have not accepted a document. They’ve not accepted the National Security Council and the powers of the Resident Commissioner.

[Page 709]

Schaufele: And the absence of a Prime Minister.

Kissinger: They accept the preamble. [Laughter]

He repeated yesterday that the war would stop when the Interim Government is established. They justify their recognition of the Patriotic Front on the ground that only that way could they assure the war would stop.

Botha: What does this mean, this recognition?

Kissinger: Mark said they’re not cutting Muzowera out of the political process.

Schaufele: Or out of Geneva.

Kissinger: But they say he has no standing for making a ceasefire because he has no troops. But Muzorewa “can participate in the political process.” Probably from jail! That is sufficient assurance—for him to get out of the country.

Schaufele: He can participate in elections—and Sithole—but only Mugabe and Nkomo can negotiate a ceasefire.

Botha: This will have no chance whatsoever of ever being considered. Never ever.

Kissinger: By whom?

Botha: By Smith. With due respect, it is nonsense. It means a man who has a few troops out in the bush is tantamount to majority rule. This is nonsense. It’s immoral. I don’t believe this country would ever stand for it. Because Mugabe has a few boys with guns, he’s the government.

Kissinger: The British are drafting a new plan which is a combination of Annex C and their latest ideas. I’ll give you a copy informally. That plan isn’t essentially different.

Schaufele: Right.

Wisner: It provides for the possibility of a Prime Minister.

Kissinger: We have no objection to a Prime Minister.

Schaufele: It depends on the blacks being able to agree on the Prime Minister, but leaves open the possibility of no Prime Minister if they can’t agree on one.

It would be hard to leave Muzorewa out of the consultations.

Kissinger: The British insist on elections. [To Schaufele:] Will the British give Nkomo the paper?

Schaufele: That’s the intention. But they can’t locate him.

Kissinger: The South Africans can’t negotiate if they don’t know the substance.

The Africans said they couldn’t react to Richard because he didn’t formally present a plan. So now Richard will hand to them, as a “study [Page 710] paper,” a document which is substantially what we’ve discussed. I don’t know what a “study paper” is.

Then presumably he’ll go to your Prime Minister and say if that paper is acceptable to the blacks, will your Prime Minister support it? (We’re not talking about the Patriotic Front.) That is when you have to make a decision.

I’ve come reluctantly to the conclusion that the paper is the best you’re likely to get.

But if the blacks accept it as a “basis of discussion,” where are we then?

Botha: But they’ve already moved away from that paper.

Kissinger: The British haven’t moved away from it; the Africans have.

What Richard is trying to sell now is the paper you’ve seen. It’s the paper you saw at the end of December, with minor modifications, which we’ll tell you.

Botha: How Richard will talk them out of support for Patriotic Front, I don’t know.

I’ll be frank with you, at the end of your term. I don’t see how this can be accepted. I don’t see how the American people can accept this sort of thing. It is patently unjust.

Kissinger: Don’t kid yourself. The American people won’t understand it. It may be unjust.

Botha: The newspapers have been against the trend.

Kissinger: Which?

Botha: The Star.

Kissinger: The Star . . .

Let’s distinguish two things. Let’s distinguish between the paper and recognition of the Patriotic Front. Richard won’t ask you to support the Patriotic Front. Is it better for you to support that paper and then have the Africans reject it? Or have the onus on you? The problem at Geneva is no one has talked to them to say there is a limit. I’ve sent letters, which they didn’t like, but then they tried to conciliate a bit.

Botha: I have to say, in the confines of this room, that I detected on the part of my Prime Minister the attitude that he’s prepared to fight it out in Southern Africa. He’s concluded—partly because of the Lesotho incident—that the West, including you, is not prepared to stand up. There is no indication on the part of the West, including you sir, that you are willing or have the means to do something. And there is every indication the new Administration will make it even more difficult for us economically. I say this to you because of the relationship we’ve had over the last few months. We will have to go it alone.

[Page 711]

Kissinger: I wouldn’t say that. I think it’s premature.

Botha: It’s not my opinion; it’s my government’s.

Kissinger: You may come to that conclusion, but it’s not the conclusion you should come to now. Let this string be played out.

If Richard then submits to pressures to go beyond this paper, you may conclude you can no longer be helpful. So my recommendation is to give Richard one more chance.

He has not deviated from his program. He was violent with the Africans for their recognition of the Patriotic Front, and has not modified his program to reflect that recognition.

I think it’s a very serious matter for South Africa to reject it. You’ll be subjected to massive pressures.

If you go along—if your conscience permits it—and the Africans then reject it, then it’s different.

Nothing has happened since we discussed it in the last two or three weeks.

Botha: With this Lesotho thing, with your term coming to an end, with the statements coming out from the new Administration, we think we’ve got to do it alone.

Kissinger: Mr. Ambassador, a country that fought the British for four years won’t be defeated that easily. I’d recommend you give it a little more of a chance before deciding to fight. It’s not a decision I’d advise you to make.

Botha: Two years ago, no liberal would have conceived we would agree to a policy on South-West Africa that ends apartheid, scraps the Bantustan policy, gives independence and a unitary state, and what we’ve done on Rhodesia. We’ve done it—but look what happens—new demands. It’s over.

In Rhodesia they will turn power over to Mugabe straight.

Kissinger: You can always reach that conclusion. But I wouldn’t advise it now.

I asked for this meeting, not you, so we wouldn’t have heard this if I hadn’t.

Let me sum up. I think Richard’s plan is probably the last tolerable limit of what we set out to do. I think Richard’s plan, with assurances that the civil service, judiciary and economy remain in place, is the last tolerable evolution.

I can tell you if we had been running the negotiation, it wouldn’t have reached this point. Even Chona said that yesterday. He volunteered it.

So give Richard one more chance.

Now, South-West Africa.

[Page 712]

Botha: My Prime Minister told them [the Windhoek Conference] they’ve got to move. He told them he wouldn’t face all this international pressure.

Kissinger: I regret what has happened here. Your Prime Minister—I say this to everybody—has behaved honorably. He took tremendous risks. Last year Nkomo asked for considerably less than we got him in September. In November, through mismanagement . . . I don’t think, when we’re changing administrations, the South African government should announce it’s decided on a policy of war.

Botha: We won’t do that.

Kissinger: Or act that way. Let them force you into it.

Botha: We feel like a sitting duck.

Kissinger: Give them a chance. Wait two or three months.

Your Prime Minister was willing to talk to Richard. It will be this plan. I know he’s a just man and will decide it carefully. He’s a South African patriot. I believe there is more than a 50–50 chance the Africans will turn it down. But it’s better if it happens there than in Capetown.

Now, South-West Africa. We finally got an answer from Nujoma.

[He gets up to get the letter from Kaunda.]5

Here, you can read it. [He gives him the letter to read.]

Botha: May I ask, what were the conditions?

Kissinger: [Hands him Tab A]:6 You can just initial them, and we’ll call a conference.

[Botha reads it.] I told them in my view you’d probably accept this, but just in case you raised some points . . . [Laughter] Was I right?

First of all I said: Are they going to insist on this? He [Chona] said that’s what SWAPO is going to say, but he left the impression it was negotiable. He wanted us to call a conference. I said we weren’t going to call a conference if we were going to have a repetition of the first Geneva experience. I said I’d give this to the South Africans and I’d recommend to my successors that they wait for the South African reply.

My view is the seven points we agreed on I’m prepared to defend. I’ve never asked you to go beyond them. Maybe some modifications. For example, prisoners. I’ve never told them you would release them; I’ve told them it was my impression you’d be prepared. Now they want my “assurance,” instead of my “impression.”

I’d suggest you study it and let me have a point-by-point response.


[Page 713]

Schaufele: Only on the first point. On all that gobbledygook—let them call it what they want.

Kissinger: The only point I think will be difficult is Point 4. They want it to be South Africa, SWAPO, and United Nations.

Botha: On Point 1, Point 2—they say “should,” “insists,” “has been and is still ready.” There are no demands made. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Kissinger: My impression from Chona is it’s softer than before. He said these are just SWAPO ideas. All of this.

I don’t recommend we call a conference. I recommend we keep stonewalling until they give us an agenda we can live with.

Botha: There is a contradiction between Point 3 and Point 4. This doesn’t tally.

Kissinger: I don’t know if you’ve met Nujoma. I don’t think precision of thought is the quality that brought him to his present eminence. Even though he treats me with more respect than you do. [Laughter]

Botha: Could there be an informal meeting of the U.S. and the four Presidents? To clarify the points.

Kissinger: Certainly. You could ask questions, which we could present as our own. I don’t think the meeting would be helpful.

I think we’ve handled this issue well. They’re getting no publicity out of it; this is softer than before.

Botha: If we come out with this . . .

Kissinger: We shouldn’t go public. Neither of us.

Botha: I haven’t consulted with my government. But what if there was a private meeting between you, us and the frontline Presidents? To clarify the points.

Kissinger: It would be a disaster. First, they wouldn’t agree to meet with you. Second, if they did, it would force the frontline Presidents to take a public position and it would be the most extreme SWAPO position. And third, the new Administration should be given a chance to get some experience before they take a public position. If not, they’d be taking a position on the basis of their previous experience.

Schaufele: I would add one more: If the Presidents agreed to meet with you, they’d insist SWAPO be present.

Botha: It was just a question.

Kissinger: All right. Can I meet with you alone for a minute?

My colleagues here are entering an era where this is the last Saturday they’ll be working. [Laughter]

[The Secretary and the Ambassador conferred privately from 12:20 to 12:35 p.m.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 346, Department of State, Memoranda, Memoranda of Conversations, External, November 1976–January 1977. Secret; Nodis. Initialed by Rodman. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office. Brackets, except those that indicate omissions, are in the original.
  2. See Document 236.
  3. Reference is to Security Council Resolution 402, adopted by consensus on December 22, 1976. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1976, pp. 169–170.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 237.
  5. Not found.
  6. Not attached.