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Jacket Notes: Niël Barnard discusses the backstory of his book Peaceful Revolution

Published in the Sunday Times

Peaceful RevolutionPeaceful Revolution
Niël Barnard (Tafelberg)

There was no shortage of inspiration for this book, a sequel to Secret Revolution (Tafelberg, 2015). In fact, here and there I was asked to tone down my “enthusiasm” for some politicians and their not-so-admirable ways.

From a young age I never shied from the heat at the proverbial coalface. To be honest, I was attracted to it – not for the sake of sensation but for the opportunity to make a contribution where and when it really mattered.

While lecturing in political science at the age of 30, I was asked to head the National Intelligence Service. A defining part of my stint there was the secret talks, started in May 1988, which I held with Nelson Mandela while he was still in prison. This led to his release, the unbanning of the liberation movements and almost four years of tense transitional negotiations – the topic of Peaceful Revolution. For good reason the subtitle speaks of the “war room” at the negotiations. Fight, we surely did, and not only with political opponents but also among ourselves on the government’s side. So much was at stake: a lasting conflict or prospects for peace, for starters.

I try to shed light on the real issues, the personalities and the forces that determined the outcome of the peace process. As a member of the government’s negotiating team and having had the experience of (informally) negotiating with Mandela, I was in a unique position to observe, take part in and assess the momentous events leading to April 27 1994.

Acquaintances will know that I am a straight-talker who doesn’t mince words. I see no reason to spare ex-president FW de Klerk or his security czar, Kobie Coetsee, any criticism – the former for his wavering and lacklustre leadership and the latter for his baffling manoeuvres. The same applies to the obstinate Mangosuthu Buthelezi (often equalled by Cyril Ramaphosa) and the sometimes petulant Mandela.

But despite the heated debates and public posturing on all sides we shared a deep commitment to work towards peace and prosperity.

On numerous occasions this patriotic spirit provided the glue which kept the process on track.

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