About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

18 Sep 1991: Masekela, Barbara

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POM. This is Patrick O'Malley in Boston.

BM. Hello Patrick, how are you?

POM. Fine.  Do you remember that we were going to do a phone interview this morning?

BM. Yes, I do.

POM. OK.  Are you still in a position to do it?

BM. I'm trying to think how I can divide myself into three people.   How long will it take?

POM. It'll take the better part of an hour.  Well let's see how far, well just see how far we get.

BM. Well OK, because I actually have to go to an emergency meeting in 25 minutes.

POM. Well maybe we could do part of it now and then I could ring you and do part of it again.  I mean if I'd got you at eight o'clock we'd have been finished in 25 minutes, so.

BM. It's just crazy here, it's absolutely crazy and with everything that is happening.  I'm just even embarrassed to schedule things because they never work out, but let's try it.

POM. Yes, OK.  Let me start, Barbara, by asking you about the position of the women in the ANC, you know the ANC calls for a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa and I think many people were surprised when, at least here many people who had regarded themselves as being supporters of affirmative action, strong supporters of affirmative action, were surprised when the quota which was to be used for the election of women to the National Executive, when the quota qualification was eliminated.  Could you talk a bit about that and the logic that was behind it?

BM. Well I think that the ANC has a very clear policy position and I think this policy position which came out in fact in 1989 in an official document which endorsed equal opportunity and affirmative action, that was as a result of a long struggle within the women's section, what we call the women's section when we were in exile.  Traditionally the role of women in the ANC has been one of assisting the movement rather than being equal partners.  We were the kind of 'side by side' type of freedom fighters who were assisting the men, not because that's how we conceived it but because in fact this is a result of the whole social, political tradition of South Africa as a whole, because I think that one would have to take into account that South Africa is a very predominantly patriarchal society and that in fact all sections of the population, racially and otherwise, have this one thing in common.  The Afrikaners are a strong patriarchal society.  The Indians are the same.  The African custom places the woman in a position of sub, you know she's a subsidiary partner in the relationship.  And, of course, there have always been apologists for the traditional position that women had powerful positions in traditional society, but in fact they were very ritual positions, symbolic, but they were not actually positions of power so that I think that our whole situation derives from that and is a part of that.  And this of course has been true in the ANC, that position -

POM. It's just a reflection of -

BM. - has been, absolutely.  So that when in fact some of us came back from exile in the early nineties we found that the word 'feminist' was not regarded as a positive expression.  To be a feminist meant that you actually endorsed the kind of western view of women which was usually interpreted as one which was held by middle class, affluent women who were fighting for the most part for equal pay, equal remuneration, rather than for rights, for explicit rights.  It was also at some point viewed as very divisive to race issues of women.  So I would say all in all we've come a very long way because we've reached the stage where in fact we can even dare to argue this in an open forum, a national conference which all the eyes of the world were focused on.  And although we lost the battle for a quota and for a clear quota in affirmative action, I think it was a very, very valuable exercise and experience for everybody because we were now actually confronted with a cross-section of South African people, a representation from a cross-section of South African people, and I think we have to admit that even in countries where we do have affirmative action, in fact in practice this has not turned out to be entirely acceptable to the society as a whole.  But our position at conference was that even if this is the case in other countries where it has been done, it is very important for the ANC as the liberation movement, the leading liberation movement, to be a leader in ideas and to set the standards for the rest of the population because it's a very serious and very backward country as far as that is concerned.

POM. I suppose when the quota was defeated you had the odd situation that, in the United States at least, you had liberals who were appalled and conservatives were cheering because conservatives here have always objected to the policy of affirmative action.

BM. Well I would also say that in South Africa because of the lack of human rights for such a long time, we do have a situation where the people who are going to come into power for the first time are in fact faced with the possibility of not being the first enjoyers of freedom, not of freedom but of positions that come out of the situation of freedom.  Because then it means some of those positions will have to be given to women.  So in addition to the whole national problem, the racial problem where whites are worried that blacks are going to get in, I think the oppressed blacks as a whole themselves are also worried that women are going to be given these positions where they should be given to the males.  And I think there's a very prickly problem there which is a problem of, which is always raised of married women, and tokenism because I think most of the women themselves are not prepared to be given positions just as tokens.

POM. So what was the logic, what were the arguments of those who were against the quota?  What argument did they make?

BM. It was mostly of merit, the general perception.

POM. That it should be on merit?

BM. Yes.  And that women had not reached that position of development.

POM. It strikes me as funny that if that were said in the United States they would immediately be condemned as being racist.  You know what I mean?

BM. Yes, if it were said of women I think people would be accused of being sexist.  But I think you tend to find that the same arguments that are put forward by racists who want to maintain domination also tend to be the same arguments.  And I think sincerely when people put those arguments they really are not aware of using the same arguments that the racists are using.  But I think that one ought to always go back to the context and certainly the context, the South African context, provides an example of extreme male domination.  And we say even in the so-called democratic, the so-called white society which is supposed to be superior, what we see is that white women are very oppressed.  But the problem is, I think for the majority of them, they have not seen themselves as oppressed people because they have been in the privileged classes.  And now that they are perhaps beginning to come into their own because of our struggles, they are now of course naturally going to look at the black society as one which is going to rob them of their chances to come into their own.

POM. I'm going to ask you, Barbara, what might appear to be a very naive question, but I continue to ask the question because of the absolute variety of responses I get to it, and the question is:  what is the nature of the problem that the negotiators will sit down to try and resolve when they get to the negotiating table?  For example, you have those who will say the problem is the domination of the black majority by whites, or the problem is competition between two nationalisms, black nationalism and white nationalism or, yes, there is a racial question but within each racial category you have severe ethnic differences, or this is a problem about the distribution of resources, the advantaged versus the disadvantaged.  If you had to pinpoint what you think is the essence of the problem that must be resolved how would you describe it?

BM. You mean in the political negotiations?  I would say that the problem is that those who have maintained power by force would not like to give up that power and as a result of which they will come up with all kinds of arguments whether they are constitutional, economical, local government, but they will always have a variety of arguments in order to delay the day of handing over power.  In other words people don't hand over power, neither do they transfer power, but they have to be forced by a convergence of circumstances to do so and even when they know that they have lost they try to write themselves into the order that is going to replace them.  So I think it's basically a question of just raw power.  You know all the arguments about lowering of standards, and fears, all the fears are in fact fears that derive out of ignorance and they are unfounded and also a refusal to convert themselves to the reality that is emerging which they cannot accept if they want to hold on to power.

POM. So when the government keeps talking about the sharing of power, in your view do they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what is taking place?  Do they think it's about a process in which power will be shared?

BM. It's laughable when they talk about sharing of power because they are the last ones to talk of sharing of power because the whole issue is that they monopolised power for so long and it is laughable for them to talk about sharing power now although the ANC has from the very first said that any power dispensation in South Africa must derive from universally held standards of what democracy is and the fundamental basis of it is in one person one vote.  Now they have tacked that on to their constitutional proposals but they then undo that by presenting a wide-ranging plan that will actually, in the final analysis, render those who have been voted into power through one person one vote, render them paralysed because there will always be a veto from one minority or the other.

POM. A couple of people have said to me that this process, a couple of people, a couple of members of the ANC in the Executive or Working Group, have said this process when you boil it down is about the transfer of power and all this talk in the government of the sharing of power it's really just a misreading of what's really going on.  They know what's really going on, they know it's about a transfer of power.  Would you agree with that?

BM. Yes, it's about the transfer of power, but I think we also have to be very careful and stick to the policies of the ANC and the philosophical approach of the ANC which has always been that that power does not reside in the oppressed only or in the blacks only.  That power resides in the South African body politic as one.  If you understand what I mean, that this is inclusive.  It includes all population groups in South Africa and when we say majority rule we don't say black majority rule, we say majority rule of the people of South Africa.

POM. Mr Mandela has talked for some time about the double agenda of the government, of having the olive branch of negotiations on the one hand and a campaign or orchestrated violence in the townships to undermine and weaken the ANC on the other.  Did you see Inkathagate as the final kind of irrefutable proof that the government was in fact engaged in a double agenda?

BM. Well we have the experience every day of people, even our people who work here in the offices, who see in their neighbourhoods where they live, where the government doesn't live, where the police doesn't live, who see evidence of weapons being brought in, into the hostels, of them being used with impunity, who have not had a single experience of the other side being disarmed, who have seen the police go to a hostel to try and take away the weapons of the hostel dwellers and being turned back by the hostel dwellers and actually going back.  So, and of course the deaths, the deaths of real people who suffer day by day from people attacking them sometimes under the very eyes of the police.  And what we've had is a denial, a constant denial on the part of the police that they are impartial.  And of course in the newspapers what you have all the time is that when people do complain they are told that the police will investigate these matters and that is where it ends for the most part.  And I think at this moment instead of dwelling on recriminations all of us are looking to the Accord, the National Peace Accord, that has been signed and hoping that the structures will be implemented as soon as possible so that in fact we can - and we see this, I think many of us, also as the beginning of transfer of power to the people because these joint civic bodies that have been set up ensure that people on the ground, at the local level and going up, have committees that will in fact look immediately at events as they occur and try to bring solutions.  And in fact that is the beginning of the establishment of democratic power because I'm sure three years ago none of us thought that the police of South Africa would ever be -

POM. Accountable.

BM. Yes, accountable.  So we are all very optimistic and we are very, very serious about the Peace Accord and we hope that it comes into being from paper into action.  But I think we must also remember that most people who were in the mass democratic movement and who were in the ANC, whether they were in South Africa or in exile, have the experience of being hunted down until they were caught.  I mean we were hunted down even when we were in the frontline states and we were killed even there, and inside the country our people who were functioning underground were sought out until they were found.  And I think it is just a little bit stretching credibility for most people to believe that today the government was not able to search out and find those people who were perpetrating these crimes.  I mean we literally have had bands of people going to stations and killing people in trains, at bus stops, etc., and the manner in which this has been done has been repeated.  The tactics are the same, the escape is the same.  And they disappear into the South African town or village or whatever.  So it has strained credibility a bit to believe that the government could not actually detail these perpetrators of violence.

POM. So when you sit down to negotiate with the government will you be looking at an adversary who over the last year tried to decimate your organisation by slaughtering hundreds of blacks, being responsible for that?

BM. When we negotiate we are not going to be looking for adversaries.  What we are going to be looking for is an opportunity to solve the problem.  And what we are doing already is that we are now organising towards the Patriotic Front Conference some time at the end of October.

POM. That's finally set?  Is that finally scheduled for October?

BM. Yes.  We don't have a definite date, but it will definitely be that weekend towards the end of October and already we are trying to lessen the differences that we have had with a number of organisations and we are concentrating on the greatest possible consensus on those things that we agree on and I think first would be the approach to all matters pertaining to negotiation, not to seek out the criminals or to seek out our enemies, but to try and lessen the areas of disagreement.  I think as Mr Mandela pointed out on Saturday at the Peace Accord the question of negotiation always involves on the part of all the participants a certain degree of compromise.  For instance, I think that it would have been unheard of for all the parties who sat together on Saturday to actually spend that time together and discuss this matter.  And I think it's a difficult process but it's coming under way and I'm sure there'll be setbacks, but we're very optimistic because if we are not optimistic then we are really designating our whole country to complete destruction or a spiral of violence to which we will not be able to escape.

POM. Do you think that it's necessary to have an element of good faith and trust among the parties who sit at a negotiating table?

BM. We must, we must, and we must create that, we might fight and that's why we are having meetings all the time with business, business organisations. And I think in the final analysis what will happen is that those who are against peace are the ones who will divorce themselves from the process.  Certainly we have reason to believe that the government itself is faced with such enormous problems in the economy, particularly in education, that they themselves would like to see these problems solved.  The thing is with the South African situation we cannot have power handed over to us like it was done in countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, etc., granted that they did fight and they fought very hard and courageously for it, but in the final analysis it was a foreign, colonial power handing over, transferring power to a new government.  Here in South Africa none of us have anywhere else to go.  This is our country so we have to solve it here.

POM. I suppose what I'm getting at is the question of, if you really believe the government was responsible for this violence in the last year and cynically was using it to undermine you, isn't it very difficult for you to sit with them across a negotiating table and to deal with them in good faith?

BM. We can deal with the government in good faith because we know that government is not a monolithic power.  We know that some of the agencies that were created by the apartheid government cannot die an overnight death, that there are pockets of resistance within these agencies and that it may very well be that those pockets of resistance are organised.  And it's clear that they are organised.  Or maybe these things are happening in a disparate fashion but they are arising out of a legacy of a certain type of operational ...   So I think there's no question of us not negotiating in good faith.   We must negotiate in good faith.  We must, we must believe that the people who are negotiating with us are doing so in good faith and if necessary on a daily basis we must push them to understand that the responsibility for the violence lies with them.  We are victims of it.

POM. The government's proposals call for the sharing of power on the executive level in the Cabinet.  Do you think that the black community would find an arrangement in which the ANC held the greatest share of power but the government also provided for an input from the National Party, it would kind of be an ANC/National Party alliance where the ANC would be the senior partner and the National Party a junior partner.  Do you think that would be acceptable to the black community as a final settlement?

BM. I don't think it would be acceptable to the majority of the black community and it would not be acceptable to the ANC either because we cannot share power with the National Party because then we should also share responsibility for the chaos that they have created out of our society.

POM. I'm not talking about an interim, I'm talking about now there would be an election and as part written into the constitutional settlement would be that a post-apartheid government, that while the ANC would hold the most power in the government, two or three Cabinet positions might be held by members of the National Party.

BM. I think this is assuming that this is what the people would choose.  I think that what we are saying is that we want a democratic society where we have one person one vote.  And I think that decides it.  Out of the magnanimity of the people of South Africa and in respect to the future peace of the country I am sure we would want to ensure that there was some way in which the rest of the people, who are not in the majority perhaps in the population, there should be some sort of guarantee that they can participate in the government.  But on the basis of our own policy of non-racialism we cannot make a special dispensation for any one group.

POM. So am I correct in trying to summarise what you're saying, by saying that you could see a situation in which the ANC might give a share in government to the National Party but it would be voluntary, it would be done by the ANC as a gesture of reconciliation of national unity, but that you couldn't see a situation in which the ANC would accept a position in which participation by the National Party would be mandated as part of the settlement?

BM. I think, yes you're correct, but I think what I have to hasten to add is that we have made very clear proposals as to how we see the evolution of the political situation towards democracy and one thing that is very clear is that we've called for an All-Party Congress and the purpose of the All-Party Congress, which we are determined should be representative of the whole population of South Africa, is that the All-Party Congress would then have the mandate to decide on the manner in which we should proceed to an interim government.  I think that what is essentially not accurate in what you've just said is that there seems to be some sort of God-given right to the NP to exercise state power.  We feel that all the people of South Africa and all the parties of South Africa should sit down together and reach some sort of consensus as to how we can have an interim government that can then have the basis for - the All-Party Congress may very well become a constitution making body and during that period, in the interim we would have to have a government.  But somehow the National Party government itself and the rest, not the rest but the majority of whites in South Africa, seem to think that somehow they have a constitutional right to running the government.  As far as we're concerned it's an illegitimate government.  It's a minority government.  It did not come about as a result of universal vote in South Africa.  It's a minority government.  It does not represent the people of South Africa.  It has no right to be in power.  But we have to deal with it because it is it that we have in power, and I think as we've put it it's a question of who will join who.  Up to now I think the government seems to think that it is the ANC and other parties who should join it in governing.  But I think really it ought to be the other way around.

POM. You say up to now the ANC believes that it should be?

BM. We believe that it should be, the decision should come out of an All-Party Congress and we are not pretending -

POM. This is on an interim government?

BM. - that it's going to be easy to do all of these things but we do believe everybody in South Africa has a contribution to make in trying to resolve the problem and all we are saying is that let us do it together.  Let us sit down and let the National Party also sit down and recognise that the other parties are equal.

POM. So that when the ANC calls for the resignation of the government and the formation of an All-Party interim government, that's the position it would put on the table at the All-Party Conference but it isn't necessarily what would come out of the All-Party Conference?  Is that right?

BM. Well what we are saying is that there has to be a transition period and during the transition period these constitutional issues would be ironed out.  But that the government that has been the one that has been responsible for the political, social and economic state in South Africa should not be the one that also decides what kind of interim government there will be.  They are the parties to the conflict.

POM. But will the ANC be insistent that the government must resign?

BM. Absolutely!  Because I mean all the problems that we've had and all the violence, etc., the unemployment, is taking place even as we speak under their tutelage.  They are in power.

POM. What I'm getting at is I suppose I have trouble envisaging a situation in which the government would simply dissolve itself and cede its own legitimacy without there being one hell of a backlash within the white community.

BM. Well that's one area in which they have to work too and which we are working in because we are certainly going to great pains to engage as broad a spectrum of the white community in discussions.  They should do the same.  And we'll assist them in that and so will other organisations inside the country.  They will all assist.

POM. How do you assess the threat of the right wing?  I remember a year ago when I was in South Africa there was a lot of concern about the rise of the Conservative Party and speculation that if there were to be, even though there won't be, a whites' only election, they probably would gain a majority of the vote.  I don't hear so much of that this year.  Looking at the two parties, looking at the Conservative Party how do you assess it's threat to the process and separately how do you assess the threat of right wing paramilitary groups?

BM. Well again I think that this points to a question which we discussed earlier in the power of the government to disarm people and to make them obey the rule of law.  I think we were all very disappointed when the Conservative Party made a threat, a challenge, the AWB made a challenge to the National Party to allow them to come to their meeting in Parys after they caused all that violence at the meeting that De Klerk, the State President, addressed.  And we were all disappointed in the end when the National Party actually withdrew from the challenge by not having the meeting.  And as I said earlier, our experience has been that when it came to so-called law and order the government never made any bones about stopping whatever point the ANC wanted to put across.  Clearly it's a very difficult problem for the National Party.  It's a question of kith and kin.  But I hope everybody understands although they are making noises that make me think they don't understand that the days of an all white electorate that decides on the future of our country are over.  It's difficult for them of course but there has to be an acceptance of that before we can go forward.

POM. Do you think that the National Party has a clear objective of what it wants out of this process and a clearly defined strategy for getting there or are they just groping?

BM. I think they're groping to a large extent but they also have armies of researchers and what have you and I think that, as I said before and as you have also repeated, they're not going to give up.  And I think we should remember the part of the whole manner in which apartheid was operated was that in fact the policies, the names, Separate Universities Education Act, Population Registration Act, what you had on paper and as a certain type of legislation, when you actually studied it and analysed it, was always a lot of apartheid speech, a type of double speech.  And certainly in our negotiations and in what we agree to we have every day to pay more and more attention to this kind of double-speak, that we don't put our names to something that sounds to the ears of any logical, normal, universal language speaker as one thing when in fact something else is meant.  And I think that those habits are hard to get out of and I am sure they are making an effort to get out of those habits of saying one thing and meaning another.  But if they don't, as I said in the very beginning, we all hope the Peace Accord will work.

. But I think we still have enormous confidence in the power that resides in the people, especially the oppressed people of South Africa and much as we would like to solve the problem peacefully and much as it has been the ANC initiative to find a peaceful way to solve the conflict, in the final analysis if that is not true then we will have to resort to the power of the people.  And I think nobody wants that because we all would like to see whatever is left of our country preserved so that we can make a new beginning but certainly we have strength.  We have strength in the labour of the people, in the numbers of the people and we will have to use that power and I think we need to repeat this, not as a way of threatening anybody but as what other guarantee do we have?  We don't have any other guarantee.  The only guarantee we have is in the people and I hope that the Peace Accord will begin to set the basis for the empowerment of the people so that they can begin to feel that they are a part of this country.  Because coming from exile after so many years I think one of the things that we see is that in fact we are going through a process where our people do not yet feel that South Africa belongs to them.  They are still fighting for it and what we need to arrive at is a point at which our people can actually feel that it does belong to them.  It is theirs.

POM. Just talking about coming back from exile, how many years were you out of the country?

BM. 27 years.

POM. 27 years.  When you came back could you say what South Africa you came back to?  How did it look compared to the South Africa you had left?

BM. I think standards had gone down tremendously.

POM. Standards like?

BM. Much greater disparity between the rich and the poor.  There was a great deal of very extravagant, physical, development for the minority and very little development - I think when I came I went to Cape Town and I could not believe the squatter camps that I saw.  I mean I just could not believe this was my country.  And from time to time I still feel I'm in a foreign country, but slowly it's becoming my country again but it's going to take a while.  I still feel sometimes like a person from New York or Lusaka visiting here and seeing it first.  There's a tremendous amount of poverty.  There's been a very great degree of impoverishment and many of us who left our homes and our families at a certain level of economic subsistence or even maintenance have found that they have in fact gotten poorer.  The majority of the blacks have gotten poorer.  Their education has deteriorated and especially this is true of people like myself who were the last to write the open Matriculation Board exams, who went to school abroad, who taught abroad.  I mean the standards are - and this is reflected at all levels of industry and the private sector in terms of skills of people, even in the NGOs, and people are making superhuman efforts to produce at the level that they are required to by the demands that are made by the country.  But certainly there's a need to jack up very dramatically a kind of all-encompassing training for people on the job, etc.

POM. So you find people by and large in the black community to be worse off, more impoverished than when you left?

BM. Oh they are, absolutely.  I mean, OK, I have some friends who have houses in the Northern Suburbs and who drive Mercedes Benz, etc. and I guess again this is a disparity.  I mean people who in the black community have more than they have ever had in the history of South Africa.   They are few and far between and they really represent a very, very small minority.  The majority of people have been terribly, terribly impoverished, terribly.  It's just unbelievable.  It is criminal.

POM. What have you found most difficult to adjust to?

BM. I have found most difficult to adjust to the violence because I've brought with me a seven year old boy who was born in Zambia, in a non-racial country, and I have seen in the year that we have come here, psychically how insecure, etc. he has become, because there is violence all around us and we don't know each other.  And when I left South Africa we were oppressed but we had a cultural coherence and we were a community and now I don't feel that way any more.  I don't know who is who and it's very, very disturbing to anybody's psyche.  And when I consider the collective psychological state of the children of South Africa with the violence they have seen and experienced first hand, I think we just have a tremendous challenge to bring back our society to a healthy state.  That's very sad.

POM. You mentioned cultural coherence and I've been asking people about ethnicity which is a loaded subject, and among many whites, what may be called 'liberal' whites, that I've talked to they'll say, yes ethnicity is a real factor but it's not brought up because if you're kind of a liberal or a progressive and you say, gee I think ethnicity is a real serious factor here, you appear to be an apologist for the government, or to suggest in some way that the government was right but it got the answer wrong.

BM. Of course ethnicity is a factor.  It is a factor because it was intended to be a factor.  People were put in Zulu-speaking, Sotho-speaking schools, they were placed in residential areas according to their ethnicity.  You know, outdated cultural ethnic activities were emphasised.  Bantustans were set up to make sure that there was a central place where these would be nurtured from.  Afrikaans nationalism grew to its heights.  The English went into their little cocoon but enjoyed the benefits. Of course ethnicity is a factor.  But it's a factor that has been resuscitated because leaving here as a 22 year old women in 1963 I did not think of myself as - you know I've been saved from it because the rest of my maturation took place outside the country.  But certainly the ordinary South African who was forced to live in those places, send his children to those schools, etc., I mean that was the master plan of apartheid to divide and rule.

POM. So the ethnicity that exists was created out of the system of separate development itself?

BM. Absolutely.  Absolutely that was its intention and they never hid that and sometimes from time to time they still come up with all this group identification, black group culture and all this nonsense.  But then I guess one would also say, what about what's happening in the socialist countries, in Yugoslavia and all those places?  I mean it's very difficult because this is now being brought forward as a kind of natural state of things that people ought to be ethnic.  And indeed as a person who lived in the United States I know it was very big there too.

POM. You can say that again.

BM. Except it's called tribalism when you take white people!   How much longer are you going to take?

POM. Just about seven minutes.  And really I thank you very much for the time,  I really appreciate it.  I look forward to meeting you in person.  I have to put a face on you, you know you imagine somebody.  Just going back to the white community for a moment.  Some recent surveys showed that up to two thirds of white people in metropolitan areas, including educated white people, would withhold the full franchise from blacks.  What do you think is going on?  Where do you think, when you talk to friends and mix, where do you think white people are?  Have they been dragged against their will to this process?  Are they beginning to understand that it's inevitable?  Are they becoming more willing to engage in it?  What's your sense of where they are and what you pick up?

BM. I think they're being dragged along and I think that they will be forced by reality, the reality of survival to reckon with the reality that they either have to save their skins or be destroyed.  And I dare to think that they will in fact in the final analysis choose to survive.  And I think also, I mean it depends who did the survey because certainly I would think that a significant portion of the younger generation is more open to change.  You know I think we have to be very honest and admit that the processes that have taken place in South Africa have taken place very rapidly and normal human beings do not change overnight.  And I think even quiet as it's kept, nobody thought that what happened in the Soviet Union would occur overnight.  We're still all adjusting.  Of course people are gloating and saying, yes we told you so, etc.  But the reality is nobody expected that it would happen and here in South Africa we are going through very, very rapid changes after a long period of suppression, censorship. I mean people in South Africa don't know anything; they've been censored for so many years, they've been living under censorship.  My opinion is that I think that people are rushing to judgement.  I think we need a chance and I think it will work out because I think basically South Africans love South Africa and they can't survive anywhere else in the world but here.

POM. You mentioned Eastern Europe a moment ago and that reminded me that increasingly in the west over the last year there has been a propensity to see the violence in the Transvaal in particular as ethnic violence, as violence between Xhosa and Zulu, to the extent that about six weeks ago The Economist, which is fairly well regarded, wrote an editorial in which it said that the violence between Xhosa and Zulu was really not much different than the violence between Serb and Croatian to the extent that they were both ethnically based.  Do you think that accurate, totally inaccurate, or that the truth lies some place in the middle?

BM. I don't know enough about Yugoslavia but what I do know is that whereas in South Africa it has actively promoted this ethnicity, I think that in that part of the world it is something that was kept alive by other forces who were interested in this very thing because it brings certain advantages to them in terms of their own hegemony over a greater part of the world.  I don't want to be flippant about this because I think what's happening in Yugoslavia is really very awful.

POM. Leave Yugoslavia out of it.  If one had to characterise the violence would it be totally inaccurate to say there is a strong ethnic component, would it be totally accurate or would the truth lie some place in between?

BM. I think the truth lies some place in between.  I really do think that it lies some place in between.  I don't think that ethnicity is the basis, certainly in South Africa.  As I've said, we've lived together as a people not based on ethnic rationale and the most amazing thing too is that when you go to the townships in South Africa today you can hardly tell what a person is because in spite of apartheid, you find people have a Zulu first name and a Xhosa last name or a Sotho last name.  I mean people have intermarried, they have no time for all of this.  So I think that there are always interests and I think it does have to do with power struggle, struggles for personal power, for group power, that people do actually keep alive these notions of ethnicity.  And I'm not by any stretch of the imagination suggesting that it is not important to have some sort of identity, cultural identity, but I think that cultural identity really deserves to be expressed on national days or folklore days or something, the appreciation of that, and in history classes and sociology classes.  But in terms of running a modern economy and running good roads and having people not starving and healthy nations, really I don't see the role that it plays.

POM. So, I got a bit confused with the answer.  You think ethnicity plays a role, the role is some place.  Sorry, the question was, I think, that if one were to characterise the violence would it be totally accurate to describe it as ethnic, totally inaccurate or does the truth lie some place in between?

BM. No, it's not accurate, it's not.  It's a combination of a number of factors and one of those factors is ethnicity because ethnicity, having been nurtured, inculcated over so many years, is the most inaccurate to give as a reason.  But no, certainly not, it's a combination of things.  I mean I think even the hostel dwellers who go out in search of people to kill them it's not because they are - it's the simplest reason that they can use, but in fact they have serious, I mean they are expected to live under dehumanising conditions and as such their whole approach to life is coloured by the manner in which they have to live.  You know that some of the people who have testified have actually said that they were unemployed and they were told they had a job to do and the job that they were given was to kill people.  And I mean you look at the hostel dwellers, they don't have their wives and children.  They have nothing to lose.  Their people are somewhere else.  And all those are factors.  I don't think that ethnicity is really the reason for it, it's a combination.

POM. Two last questions Barbara and they're quite different kinds.  I've been struck over the last 18 months, during my visits to South Africa by the attitude of whites and that is among the best of them they'll say, let's get on with the job and build a new South Africa, let's put the past behind us.  There's no admission that apartheid was wrong, morally wrong, at all.  Can this country really go forward on a path of reconciliation without an acknowledgement by whites of the wrong they did to black people?

BM. No it can't go on.  This is an era in which we have to do a lot of work.

POM. Why is it so un-addressed?  Is it because people are so busy with other things or that whites are not prepared to make that kind of admission?

BM. Because that kind of acknowledgement also when it is made is met with a certain level of scepticism.  Because by somebody saying they're sorry, as I was saying, when it is done, it has been done by certain ministers, it's met with a great deal of scepticism because saying you're sorry is just not enough.  It does not heal the wound.  I, for instance, recently went to a Conference of the Union of Jewish Women and I was just amazed at the hostility that I aroused in certain quarters there.  I mean I was viewed as belonging to a party that was going to deprive people of going to see their children on holiday abroad, or lower the standards of the school, or their future was threatened by me.  And yet the majority of the people were so nice.  And as I say, I guess I have to refer again to the question of time. It's been a very short time O'Malley, this kind of oppression which started centuries ago and was refined 48 years ago.  It's going to take some time for us to become a happy nation.

POM. It is my last question.  Thank you for the time, I really appreciate it.  There is something that puzzles me.  Maybe you can help me un-puzzle it a bit.  When I talk to blacks or their leaders or whatever I'm struck by the absence of any kind of open bitterness to what happened to them.  There seemed to be a spirit of tolerance and forgiveness towards whites.

BM. Because we're going to win!  That even if it's going to be tough we are the inheritors and we're going to be very gracious to everybody and we're going to build a great country and we're going to win.

POM. Well OK.  The question's a little but more complicated.  Then when you go to Natal and I talk to people there, or look at studies that have been done, you'll be told that a lot of the killings that happened there is that retribution is a real part of the killing cycle that takes place there.  And why would there be this vengefulness among segments of the black community towards their own community and the lack of that kind of vengefulness towards whites who have opposed them so brutally?

BM. The same way that I think it's kind of family anger, the same way that you get angrier at the one who's your kith and kin because what they do reflects on you more. Whereas even if culturally, although we hold political beliefs that we are all the same, but in fact if you look at our language, the manner in which we refer to whites from olden times is different. We don't say 'white people' we say 'abelungu' (Zulu word), so it's a cultural thing more than anything.

POM. And it means?

BM. It means 'white people' but not literally.

POM. Listen, I will let you go. Thank you ever so much for the time. I'll have a transcript of it made and I'll send it on to you and then meet you in person when I visit there next time. OK? Good luck, thank you, goodbye.

BM. All right. You're a lucky man. Goodbye.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.