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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
05 Jun 1995: Mufamadi, Sydney
POM. Hello, Minister.
SM. How are you Professor?
POM. Fine. On this the 19th occasion on which I've been trying to get hold of you.
SM. I know, I know, it's not easy.
POM. I know you must be a very, very busy man. So can we just get down to business?
SM. Yes, sure.
POM. OK. First of all I want to ask you, in the light of the crime rate in South Africa, whether it's murder, rape, armed robbery or whatever, it's among the highest in the world and the ratio of police per population is ironically among one of the lowest in the developed world. What specific measures can you take or can the police force take to reduce the level of crime?
SM. Well as you are saying the levels of crime at the moment in South Africa are very high but I think there is one thing that really needs to be said about this, firstly to say high levels of crime are not a peculiarity of South Africa and in fact we have come to understand that high levels of crime are an attendant problem of processes of transition. The situation, I'm told, in Namibia in the immediate aftermath of independence was that crime levels rocketed by something like 200%, they went up by something like 200%. That was in Namibia.
. Now you have a situation in South Africa where we have the first ever democratic elections in the country. We are in the process of becoming, so to speak, an open society. If you look at our country in relation to the rest of the countries in our region it is a relatively advanced country. I'm not saying it is an advanced country in a global sense but it is a relatively advanced country if we are looking at it in relation to the countries that are our neighbours; a relatively developed communications infrastructure, the banking system which allows possibly for all sorts of things including money laundering. So it becomes an attractive country from that point of view for the people in the rest of the region and possibly the continent. Not only does it attract good people but it also attracts bad people. The organised crime syndicates see a possibility of an important transit route for things such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling. They are talking about weapons which were cached for years during the war years in places like Mozambique, Angola and so on.
. Now the sorts of serious crimes that you see in our country will be things like armed robberies, car theft, car hijackings, drug trafficking and so on. These things are made possible by a variety of factors such as the ones that I've just referred to.
. Now you asked me a question about the policing infrastructure that we have, is it adequate to cope with the problems that we face and I want to say that certainly we could do with more but I think part of the problem you have is the legacy of the apartheid system which made it necessary in the past for the police not to prioritise fighting real crimes. So the police were preoccupied in the past with fighting political opponents of successive National Party governments. So it means that the policing resources available to the country, the distribution thereof, was blatantly skewed in favour of what one may call internal security activities as opposed to community safety, activities which are intended to promote community safety. So I am saying that however limited the resources at our disposal, I think the real question or the real challenge that we face is to find a way by which to manage these resources in order that we can ensure that they are put into optimal use and that is precisely what we are doing at the moment.
POM. If I could at the moment just ask you a personal question, and that is, Minister, how has your life changed since you have become Minister both in a personal way and in a professional way? I used to be able to ring you at home. Unfortunately one time you gave me your home telephone number and I used to ring you at home at about six o'clock in the morning and your poor wife would say ...
SM. Perhaps that's the only way in which my life has changed, that I'm not allowed to give my home phone number. That's the only way. But I must say that I am part of this government of national unity whose mandate from the people is to ensure that our people do enjoy a life that is better than what they've gone through for decades, for centuries. Now in that sense my life has not changed because a better life is what we fought for for years and I think the struggle for a better life to transform our country into a better society goes on. It just happens to be the case that that struggle is taking place now in a new context where perhaps conditions have become more favourable than they were in the past. You have a government elected by the people. It has to be responsive to the people and this government remains alive to its obligation in that regard. I'm talking about government at both levels, national as well as provincial level. And as you know we are in the process of preparing for elections for local government structures. I think that will increase our capacity to implement the ideas, transformative ideas that have been formulated both at national and provincial levels because I think the missing link has always been at the point of delivery where we don't as yet have structures of governance as close to the people as possible in place.
POM. Do you think whites understand how evil apartheid was? Do they have any idea of the wrongs that they did to black people, the sheer magnitude of those wrongs?
SM. Yes well you see I think, I mean what the apartheid system did to us is not something that I just read about in the books, it's something that I experienced, I went through that.
POM. But do you think whites have?
SM. But indeed, because we were, as it were, an insurgent force not knowing what good governance and so on should entail, perhaps we did not fully understand the extent to which the legacy of apartheid would always be an impediment standing in the way of our attempts to democratise the country.
POM. My question is, do you think whites have any understanding? My question was do you think that white people have any understanding how evil apartheid was and of the wrongs, have they any idea of the magnitude of the wrongs they have done to black people?
SM. I think they would understand some of the aspects of the wrong things that they did. They may not understand the profound implications of, say, acceptance of the word 'change'. I think many whites in this country have come to realise it was foolish of them to incarcerate Nelson Mandela for so many years in prison. They have come to realise that this ANC is not really made up of the terrorists that they thought we were. I think those people have realised that. They are pleasantly surprised that we are talking about the necessity for national reconciliation in the country. Some of them they are surprised that we have not banned the use of Afrikaans as a language. I'm just giving that as an example.
. So I am saying that I think all of us including the white people will come to understand as we go along what perhaps some of them have not come really to understand, is the fact that change cannot just mean platitudes such as national reconciliation, peaceful co-existence and so on. It must also mean that something must be done to address all sorts of problems that are deviating from the previous political dispensation, the question of closing the gaps in the income distribution for instance which were taken as natural and normal between blacks and whites, creating equal opportunities for people in terms of job creation and so on and saying to them that they will be expected to compete. So you've removed all those sorts of things such as legislation which in the past insulated them against competition and so on.
. So I'm saying that I think, yes, in one respect they understand that there are these bad things that they did and they don't understand why there is a readiness to forgive and so on, but I think they ought to understand also that notion of forgiveness and acceptance thereof is supposed to be something that is going to be functional to the process of transforming our country into a better society for everybody.
POM. Since you have become a member of the government of national unity has any non-black minister ever apologised to you for the part he or she may have played in the past in maintaining apartheid?
SM. You mean to me as a person?
POM. Yes, did anyone come up to you and say, I want to apologise for what I did.
SM. No, that has not happened because I've never asked for such an apology.
POM. But they've never come and given it to you voluntarily?
SM. No. But you see sometimes even if a person has not asked for it vocally you can give that apology if you feel obliged to do so if that person gives you some impression that he would welcome that apology. I think really that we face immense challenges as government of national unity and I'm not sure if apologies to be made by people about what they did in the past are indispensable to the process of transforming our country.
POM. The former Police Commissioner Johan van der Merwe said when he appeared before one of the standing committees in parliament, he said quite bluntly, If policemen start exposing their superiors, senior officers will not hesitate to show that they acted on the authority of their political superiors. This was with regard to the Truth Commission. Have you set up internal structures within the police services to deal with questions relating to the police or to the Truth Commission or is it going to be like if you blame me and I'm a senior officer I'm just going to pass it on to my political superior?
SM. No, you see the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, because I think the two aspects need to be seen as part of one of the same idea, but the truth that is going to be told in that commission is intended to facilitate the process of reconciliation in the country, make a contribution to this process of reconciliation. Now people are not just going there to say, I've come to appear before the commission because I was a member of the SAP, I'm coming to confirm that I was a member of the SAP, or, I was a member of MK, I'm just coming to confirm this and that's the end of it. Expected to appear before that commission are people who committed what is called gross violation of human rights. Where those things are spelt out in the bill they will include causing the disappearance, permanent disappearance of political opponents, maybe murder and so on, those sort of serious, gruesome violations of human rights. But all these things arose in the context of conflict of the past which is the past that we want to put behind us.
. There will be no necessity at all for anybody to be talking in terms of exposing the next individual because a person who was a member of MK must have done certain things within a particular policy context, policy positions taken by the ANC and the various stages of the development of the struggle against apartheid. A person who was working in the Special Branch of the police force or in the military or any such structure may also have done certain things within the policy context of what successive National Party governments were putting forward. It will perhaps become necessary, in fact not perhaps, it will become necessary for the political leadership of the respective sides in that conflict of the past to assume collective responsibility for the policy positions which resulted in certain operational decisions being taken resulting in some cases in the gross abuse, gross violation of human rights.
. So I am saying that I don't think this is a platform to be used by people to expose so-and-so or to settle scores but it is something that we are agreed is necessary to enable people to forgive past wrongs and people will then be able to forgive if they know what they are forgiving.
POM. I know President Mandela has received a lot of coverage here in the United States because of his remarks a couple of days ago that he took responsibility for the shootings at Shell House. Is that being misread by people in terms of the manner in which he describes himself as having given the orders that if it was necessary to shoot then ...?
SM. You see there are very simple things that I don't know why people tend to overlook. The ANC at the time of the incident was not in government. You remember, you remember it wasn't in government?
POM. I do, yes.
SM. It was not in government. The ANC like all other political parties was busy campaigning for the elections at the time. One of the things which happened in the run-up to the elections, especially as campaign was hotting up, was that ANC offices in various parts of the country were targeted for attack. Even as we are talking there are cases going on in court involving members of the right wing white parties who were arrested as suspects for bomb explosions which took place in various parts of the country. You know what I mean? Then the targets were ANC offices. Now the ANC in that situation went to the authorities, the police, and said we want you to please give us a licence to possess 320 firearms. We need these firearms for purposes of defending our offices and the personnel and the leadership that operate from these offices ...
. (The recording becomes inaudible here)