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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

12 Mar 1997: Burton, Mary

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POM. Let me begin, Mary, with this question that the commission has truth, justice and reconciliation; in what areas do you think the commission has made most progress and in what areas do you think it has made least progress?

MB. I think the first year of the commission's life was very successful in bringing out into the public awareness a great deal more of the truth than has ever been told. I think there can be very few people left in this country who would deny what happened during the years which we are covering, the years 1960 to 1994. The process has come out partly through the hearing of testimonies from victims of gross human rights violations and then towards the end of the year increasingly through the process of applications for amnesty and also, very interestingly, in a parallel process of court trials, of journalists interviewing people who had been affected. So all of these things together have created a body of knowledge which didn't exist before, or which if it did exist existed only in the minds of a few people who knew and remembered what had happened but had never been able to effectively make it public.

. The question of justice goes much further down the line, is much more hotly contested. The commission is in a way not able to render justice except perhaps in the longer sense of some kind of re-distributive justice, some way of making up to people for what happened to them. The commission has no power to bring about any sanctions against people, no punishment, so in the traditional sense of justice in terms of punishment we have not got the power to do that and in fact the amnesty process seems to do precisely the reverse and so it has been very much questioned. I think that in the long run when we look back at this process we will see that it was not a choice between reaching punitive justice through the courts and the amnesty process of the commission because in fact the lack of knowledge meant that court justice was not bringing about justice either. So perhaps under the circumstances we are doing as much as it is possible to do in our political situation to bring about justice but that is still something that I think we feel our way day to day and in the end only after the commission is finished and has completed its report and made all its decisions will we be able to talk with more depth about how much the commission has contributed to justice and then reconciliation.

. Reconciliation is such an intangible thing and it will take such a long time before we can say that this is a reconciled nation. There are many different aspects to it. Some of the reconciliation comes about just by people knowing and I think not only of victims but of members of the public as well. I keep on meeting relatively well intentioned, not very well informed white people who now recognise what happened in the past and say to themselves, "How could I not have known?" It's not that they feel guilt, it's that they just generally recognise what was the true situation and I think that is a step towards reconciliation both in their openness to other people and in the fact that black people no longer need to feel that their truth is denied by the people they deal with. The reconciliation that comes from people who have the capacity to forgive is truly miraculous and our chairperson, Archbishop Tutu, often refers to it. I worry sometimes that we try to impose that forgiveness on people by creating a climate where forgiveness is seen as the good thing to do, but nevertheless it is quite astonishing what a generous capacity people have to - perhaps forgive is not quite the right word, but to say that's the past and now that I know the truth I can accept it and I can go on and I have no revengeful feelings in my heart. There is great generosity of spirit. Even where people are not ready to forgive, and I sometimes find that the most moving, where people still are angry, still are frustrated, there is an openness, a capacity to talk which may in the long term lead towards reconciliation.

. I really believe that if we talk about reconciliation only between individuals, those who committed dreadful deeds and those who suffered under them, we are missing the point. The reconciliation has to be between all the people, between the people who have power and the people who still have no power, between the people who have wealth and still have no wealth, between the people who have education and those who still have no education and not much chance of getting it even for the next generation. So the process that we follow has to go in tandem with the real transformation of society if we're to talk about reconciliation and we need to help people to understand that the Truth Commission is only one of the tools that the government must use to bring about that reconciliation. We can create discussion about it, we have the power to make the space to talk about it, but the achievement of reconciliation depends not only on what this commission does but on what many other commissions and other departments of government do.

POM. This morning I was talking with General Constand Viljoen who dismisses the Truth Commission almost out of hand and many people in the National Party, I find, do the same thing, see it as some kind of almost organised witch-hunt. Many ordinary white people I talk to have simply turned off, that is they have tuned out, they don't follow the proceedings, they don't want to really talk about the Truth Commission and they don't feel any sense of guilt, they don't see why they should be held accountable for the actions of a Eugene de Kock or a Dirk Coetzee or whatever and are quite angry in some way that they are being called upon to apologise for acts in which they had no part. I see that on the one hand.

. On the other side I've seen among ordinary blacks, where two or three years ago there was much more a spirit of ubuntu, of forgiveness, of not wanting revenge, of now getting increasingly angry when they hear tale after tale of atrocity after atrocity told coldly and without remorse, without the appearance of remorse in most cases, by security policemen and it's not even that they are atrocities but atrocities committed with such a barbarity, inhumanity, and they see these people almost as though they are looking at their watch and saying, "After I testify for another 15 minutes I'll have told the truth and my amnesty application is over and I can walk out of here a free person"; that there's increasing anger that these people, many self-confessed cold blooded killers are in fact going to walk free.

. Three, that on the part of the ex-national government again there appears to be no semblance of, not repentance, of even a serious sense of wrongdoing. It's that they all talk about the bad eggs and of course they should be prosecuted and whatever but there's no sense of accountability that we, I, De Klerk, am accountable, must accept that accountability, bear it on my shoulders and I encourage my colleagues to do so. It's like a semi-belligerence of we were fighting a cold war, we were fighting against communism, we were fighting an enemy and we were in a war and actions you take in a war are justified and what about what the ANC did?

MB. And they are the issues that we have to grapple with all the time. I think we have to think back to the years of the dramatic changes, the 1990 announcement of the change and then the preparations for all the negotiations, the ups and downs of that and then the euphoria of the 1994 elections. That was a wave of excitement and enthusiasm and hope for this country, particularly for the black people that you speak about who are now angry and disillusioned. Those moments come, I think, once in a lifetime of many countries, once in more than a lifetime, once in a history perhaps and I think what we have to do is recognise that that was the situation then and build on the feelings that were generated at that time. In the same way as having a Nelson Mandela is a kind of gift to this country, I don't believe that he somehow brought about the changes on his own, but I believe that the country was very blessed to have somebody like that and again we have to use the time that we have him in order to try and create the kind of spirit that is needed to tide us through what I think is an inevitable reaction to those high hopes.

. I think that those high hopes were not only on the part of the black people but on the part of the white people who somehow thought that now they had granted democracy and therefore everything was going to be all right and so all sides are experiencing now the cold reality of the aftermath of those many, many years of apartheid and of brutality and it is not easy to put that right. I think it's quite extraordinary that we should really expect that somebody like De Klerk should apologise and abase himself and take responsibility on his shoulders. He is not a world hero, although much of the world has looked at him and believes that he had the capacity to recognise the writing on the wall and make the right decisions and for that one is thankful, but I don't think that he is the sort of person who could transcend his own political history. And I think it would be extraordinary, and we have had enough extraordinary experiences without also demanding that everything should be miraculous. I don't think it's surprising that the NP should not be willing to take on that responsibility. I don't say I don't wish it was so but I think in all reality - I can't think of a political party in the world that would do that, that would say everything was our fault. I think they have to go on saying the things like the policy didn't work and it was not evilly intentioned and so on because otherwise they might as well go out of existence. They may do anyway. So I think sometimes we ask too much of people, more than is realistically possible to ask.

. The question of remorse, I am one of those who is very grateful that it was not put down in our legislation that people had to say they were sorry because the spectacle of people saying they were sorry when they clearly weren't, simply in order to comply with the legal requirements for amnesty would, I think, be even more sickening that what we are seeing at the moment. And when I put that to people who are full of anger that they don't even say they're sorry, they actually recognise that. I think perhaps we as a commission need to say it more, that regret or apologies, insincere ones, would I think cheapen the process. It is also true that many of those people were victims of a system, many of the perpetrators, however brutal, it's the system that is wrong and in our final recommendations I hope that we will make that very clear, that many people who served the state in the security forces are weak, foolish, easily manipulated, some of them have gone into the services perhaps precisely because they have tendencies towards brutality and what we need to have is a system where those things are not allowed to flourish. So, yes, it would perhaps be proper to punish people but I don't know that it would really lead to the kind of reconciliation we are seeking.

POM. What do you say to, for example, Steve Biko's family and Chris Hani's family? You have the Biko family wanting the prosecution of his murderers and the Hani family, with the ANC's backing, saying that under no circumstances should there be amnesty for Clive Derby-Lewis. How do you handle that kind of tension?

MB. Well let me set aside the question of whether they should get amnesty or not because that will fall outside my province. Clearly there will be some cases where people do not get amnesty. But I think one has to say, I would say, I hope I would have the courage to say to them if it were a question of saying it face to face, that they have every right to be angry, they have every right to think those thoughts, but our responsibility is to think beyond their individual rights to the good of the country and that we have to weigh up their feelings and at the same time balance that against a process of building stability for the future and that if one got into a cycle of revengeful justice it might be much more difficult to secure the stability of the country for the future. And I am reminded of what Albie Sachs once said, that it is precisely the people who have suffered who should not be given the task of deciding issues like amnesty and what steps must be taken to deal with the perpetrators of the past because their own feelings are too close to it and they need to allow others whom they trust to make those decisions.

. Now, of course, that may not answer the individual people that you have talked about because there may not be that trust and in the end - I was once asked at a public meeting, "How can we trust you?" And all I could say was, "You will only know at the end whether you could trust us. I can make as many claims as I like but you will only know by what we do whether we were trustworthy or not in the end." So it's a tightrope that one walks all the time but it does seem that the white right wing would have the power to be a very strong destabilising force in this country and the prospect of more warfare would be so dreadful that I think that even for those families who have suffered so much if they were able to look at it more objectively the choice might be for something like this.

POM. Do you believe that if there had been a punitive justice process that it would provoke a reaction on the side of the right wing?

MB. I think so. I think that is a great danger. That would be the one aspect, if the country had the capacity to prosecute and then punish those perpetrators there would have been a very severe reaction I think and the alternate risk is that the justice system would not have the capacity, the country would not have the money for such high, long legal cases or the capacity to bring them to a conclusion, so that in the end one would have people who in fact got off scot-free either because there was not evidence or because there was not the capacity to bring so many cases to finality that even less justice would have been served.

POM. Do you think there are many people out there who are taking a calculated gamble, that they won't apply for amnesty and believe that the state simply won't have the resources to follow up and prosecute them?

MB. I think particularly at the beginning of the process that was so, I think a lot of people just either never really believed it would come anywhere close to them or hoped that the situation would be one where perhaps some of the very high profile big name cases were followed up and the others were simply lapsed for lack of time or lack of capacity. I think the high publicity given to a number of the cases and the work that has been done parallel in terms of other court processes and of journalistic investigation must make people like that extremely nervous.

POM. So truth and justice are not necessarily congruent and reconciliation and truth aren't necessarily congruent either?

MB. No. I think that perhaps truth is a necessary but not sufficient ingredient of reconciliation. I think reconciliation without truth would be empty. I think one needs more. One needs to build understanding and some form of redress.

POM. Can you have truth and reconciliation but without justice?

MB. I think it depends on one's definition of justice but I think, yes, in the end one can.

POM. Could you elaborate a little on that?

MB. Well I think again if one can help people and groups of people to recognise that the kind of justice with which we are familiar, in other words a punitive system of justice, is not achievable and that the kind of justice that we are talking about is exposure and some form of redress plus some kind of assurance of a changed society in which such events can never happen again, that that is a form of justice that can help to bring about reconciliation, but it needs a change of heart in the minds of many, many people because it's not the kind of justice that we were brought up with.

POM. I want to just move to some statements that were made when the commission came into being. One was the Archbishop saying that the commission, "Will open wounds so that they can be cleansed and prevented from festering." Do you think it is succeeding in doing that or that that might emerge out of your final report but that it hasn't yet happened, that the wounds are indeed open, that the wounds are not healing? Again, I mean that in the sense of large sections of the white community simply tuning out, just saying we're sick and tired of hearing about these atrocities, one atrocity is the same as another, they were psychotic, they should have been put in jail in the first place, if we knew they were doing these kinds of acts, blowing bodies up, it was barbaric, we would have no part of it. And they kind of excuse themselves but it doesn't go further than that.

MB. I think for that class of people it probably only will come as a long process. I think precisely it's very human to shut oneself off from pain and discomfort and people are tuning out, many people, although it's amazing to me how much reported the commission still is and my understanding of the media is that they give the public usually what it wants. So if the newspapers and the radio and television continue to report the commission in such detail there must be a readership and a listenership out there that is taking this in. Taking responsibility for it may take longer. I think it has an invisible effect in that it makes people more willing, not entirely willing but more willing than they might otherwise be to accept the other changes that have to happen in society. It's more difficult to oppose affirmative action or changes in education systems or changes in health systems when at the same time through another different process one is being made aware of the terrible injustices of the past. So I think there's a hidden feeling there.

POM. But if affirmative action is being fought at every level, educational changes are being fought at every level, health care changes are being fought at every level?

MB. Indeed they are.

POM. There's no real indication that there's any deep-rooted change in the electorate that's occurred.

MB. No, that's true.

POM. In fact in many cases it's a hardening, saying you're destroying our culture, you're destroying our language.

MB. Yes in some cases it certainly is that. But I do believe that there the voices that we hear opposed to the change are the vocal, I won't say the vocal few, but I think there is a broad mass of the white population that is more resigned to change than it might otherwise be because it is being faced with the reality of the past, not being allowed to say, well we've now had a change in government and a change in electoral system and everything is going to be all right. Maybe I'm too much of an optimist but I do believe that that is so. In terms of the wounds that are opened of people who suffered so terribly, that to me is the extraordinary thing that people should show such evident signs of feeling better as a result and that applies mainly in my own experience to the people who have spoken at public hearings because those are the ones I see and am able to talk to.

. I think particularly of the families of the Guguletu Seven whom we have just been hearing and talking about now. They were among the first people who came to us, they were seven young men who were killed by police, the evidence increasingly suggests that rather than being themselves the villains they may have been led into a trap. They may not have been entirely innocent but it looks as if there was a good deal of premeditation in the act of the security forces. Whatever the final outcome of our findings may be, when the mothers particularly and family members of these young men came to us they were withdrawn, quiet, doubtful of the process but feeling they had to speak. They had to some extent been ostracised by their own community because of this terrible event that had happened that, again, nobody wanted to talk about or face. Three of the mothers were among the first people whom I saw, they sat here, and I knew some of them from before which is probably why they came to me. One of the things I asked them was whether they had a support structure, whether their churches had, for example, rallied round them, and they said no, they were one another's support structure, these three women who live near enough to each other to see each other occasionally. After we had heard their public testimony we heard also in public from some of the police who had been involved and the mothers were in despair, they broke down although they had been warned what they would hear and what they would see, and the hearing broke up in some disarray. They became hysterical and they had to be led out of the room and comforted and consoled and we were accused by the media of having exposed them to unnecessary suffering, although they had knowingly chosen that they wanted to be there.

. The second time that the police reappeared, a few months later, there was the most remarkable change among these women. They listened closely and they listened to every word, they remained silent but fascinated throughout. They were now not looking at their own feelings, they were looking at what was happening as the police were questioned. And at the end of the day they left the hall in one of our vehicles which had fetched them and was taking them home, singing, joyous. They said, "Now we know what happened." They still don't know everything but they knew very much more. "Our neighbours know that our sons were freedom fighters, not criminals, and we know that this process is going to work out and that we're going to know everything by the end of it." It was the most remarkable change in a group of women.

. And so it does look as if simply knowing, without the question of punishment, is healing, has a healing element to it. Now that may not be for everybody, it may not always work. As I said to you earlier sometimes I'm most moved by the people who remain locked in frustrated rage at what happened to them because I can understand that feeling so much. But yet it does seem that having these things brought out into the open helps.

POM. Business Day when the commission first came into being said, "So that it does not deepen the rifts it has been set up to heal, the commission's proceedings and final report must reflect an understanding of the perspectives and motives of all sides of the dirty war. The legislation gives it power to investigate in addition to hearing evidence and applications and it must use them even-handedly to shed light on the crimes of the ANC and its allies as well as those of the forces of apartheid. The distasteful reality is that the committee will have the job of letting assassins and torturers off the hook as long as their crimes were politically inspired and proportional to the political aim."

. A couple of questions, and this comes back to the whole question of the just and unjust war. To what extent does the commission accept the validity of the ANC's argument that theirs was a just war, a war against an oppressive regime in which their resort to violence was in fact a remedy of last resort, that there was no other option left? How does one balance a crime committed in the name of apartheid against a crime committed in the name of liberation? You have the Minister for Justice, Dullah Omar, being very explicit, saying ours was a just war, it was a noble cause, apartheid was a crime against humanity. How does the commission make these distinctions or take these distinctions into account or has it arrived itself at a definition of what might be called a just war? Has it established common ground? There was a meeting last Friday with the ANC as to what a just war is and what one is allowed to do in the pursuit of a just war in contrast to what one is allowed or not allowed to do in pursuit of an unjust war.

MB. The commission has not pronounced on its view of whether the resistance was a just war or not. I think we probably will be discussing this at our coming meeting next week because of the meeting with the ANC and the Amnesty Committee's decision about not revealing the names of informers and so on. My own feeling, so this is a personal view rather than the commission's view, is that the ANC may have quite a respectable argument in terms of the just war, in terms of international provisions of when a just war can be so called and whether it has explored all the other possibilities before resorting to violence and so on. I remember being at the conference of the South African Council of Churches which took a decision to recognise the ANC's position as having opted for violence and to take an understanding of the factors which had driven the ANC to that position.

POM. Were they going as far as to say that the ANC's war was just?

MB. War was just? I've forgotten.

POM. That they had no option left but to resort to violence, to pursue it?

MB. I think it was as strong as that. I don't remember the exact wording of the resolution taken. It was very hotly contested and very finely worded and the SACC came in for enormous public criticism for its decision. But my own feeling as far as the commission is concerned is that our opinion does not need to decide whether the ANC's war was a just war or not. Our concern is for the victims of acts, offences, crimes which may have been not only crimes and offences in other words, but acts committed with a political objective. And if people's human rights were grossly violated by those acts then that is of concern to us and we expect the victims to tell us their story and the perpetrators to seek amnesty for those acts. So that if an ANC action which was, say, aimed at a military target and therefore in their terms justified as part of a just war, but in fact the people who were killed were innocent people or the people who were injured were innocent people, then I think that that falls within our definition of a gross violation of human rights and I would say that the people who carried out that act should seek amnesty for it. That does not mean to say that they have to say that they committed a crime but what they have to say is the action that I carried out resulted in a violation of human rights and therefore I seek amnesty for it.

POM. There's a case that whites are obsessed with, the Robert McBride case, the Magoo Bar case in Durban. I've heard Dullah Omar try to make almost theological distinctions between tossing a bomb and killing people randomly as somehow being more moral than targeting individuals, where it would seem to me that in fact the opposite might be the case. One can understand, for example, the killing of a policeman. I bring this argument up because I have it in Northern Ireland all the time where I have continually, for 22 years, said there is no moral justification for what the IRA does because there are other means, legitimate means through which people can pursue their political goals and aspirations. However, when I looked at South Africa and apartheid and the total oppression of the state one saw no other way.

MB. No other way except dying in vast numbers, which is a cost that I wouldn't feel I have the right to ask of anybody.

POM. So in that situation does the resort to violence become just? Just in your own view.

MB. My own view is yes. It would not my choice but I can see that that is a position where the choice is, the only other option is to die oneself, to, if you like, throw yourself against the barricades, as it were, to be a more conventional warfare in such numbers and lose so many people that in fact the horror of the mass destruction might bring about the end. And I don't think that that is a choice that any organisation has, to send its members to death in that sort of way. So, yes, I think that that was the only option and I think it did result in the changes which have come about, in conjunction with many other pressures which were also carried out simultaneously. But, as I say, I don't think it's necessary for the commission to hold that view, for us at the same time to say that perpetrators of gross violations of human rights should seek amnesty because that is the agreement that was reached in order to set up this commission. It was reached by all the participating parties. They agreed to the legislation. They set up the commission and therefore I don't believe that at this stage they should be saying we are not going to seek amnesty because we have somehow granted ourselves the right to choose for which actions we may or may not seek amnesty.

POM. Now I'm going to ask you a series of questions. They're more or less statements and I just want you to say whether or not the commission has asked themselves these questions and if they have whether they came to any shared answer because you're a commission of such diversity and from so many backgrounds that it must be very difficult to reach agreement among yourselves on many things.

MB. I'll do my best to answer. We sometimes talk at such great length about these issues that the final absolute certainty about what our position is may not be as clear as it should be.

POM. Should murder committed by the state in the name of protecting state security be held to a different standard of justice than murder committed by young comrades fighting in the liberation?

MB. I think our commitment to even-handedness would answer that. I think we are saying if we're talking about an act of murder with a political objective it doesn't matter who did it.

POM. You think murder is murder? Second, morally is there any difference between the shooting dead on the orders of the state of a named individual whose activities are perceived to be inimical to the survival of the state no matter how oppressive and the township necklacings carried out by young comrades of suspected informants?

MB. The difference in the question is under orders and I don't think there is clarity about whether orders were ever given for necklacing. But I suppose if you talk about execution without talking about the form it takes then for me, and I think for the commission, the culpability is the same.

POM. How do you balance the right of the families of victims of apartheid rule who disappeared to know what happened to their kin, with the rights of the families of victims of savagely dispensed township justice and people's courts to know what happened to theirs?

MB. It seems to me that they have the same right.

POM. But has the commission put emphasis on trying to find out what happened? Where has the emphasis been? Is there a bent, at the end of the day is there a bent towards looking at what the white security forces or the security forces of the state did rather than looking at what happened in the townships?

MB. I would argue that there has not been a bent. For example, when we select the cases that will come before a public hearing we try very hard to make sure that, for example, if there are those kinds of murders, executions, necklaces, whatever term one wants to use, that there will be things that were done by participants from both sides. Sometimes that means one has to select not according to proportionality. We might have 100 statements from which to choose. We might have one action taken by comrades against somebody in a township area, we might have ten accounts of people who were killed by the security police but we would choose one of each in order to create that balance. So it's almost falling over ourselves to be even-handed. I think that, yes, the commission tries very hard to retain that balance.

POM. Even in the case where in townships in particular the naming of individuals who were involved in kangaroo courts or necklacings might almost certainly lead to their deaths if they still live in that community, have you run across cases like that and how are they handled?

MB. Well it hasn't been so much a question of the naming of the perpetrators. You see in many of those circumstances, particularly I'm thinking about necklacing, they were such public events that people actually know. It's not one of the areas where one has to dig and investigate and find out the name of a person. The knowledge is there. In that case what families want more is a public acknowledgement even from their own community that what happened was unjust and they seek to justify, for instance, that the person was not an informer, that there was a misunderstanding or that they were unjustly treated. In some cases, for example, it would have been a person who was wealthy who owned a shop, who was seen somehow as holding themselves away from the community's struggle and there is a real sense of injustice and of wanting to set the record straight and make sure that the world knows. It's not so much a question of naming the people who did it.

. So there are different wishes, different motives. I think our task is - and I suppose I'm speaking now about areas I know best and areas that I work well in because it is true that in areas which are still very volatile, and I think particularly of KwaZulu/Natal, the naming of people is very dangerous and we have in those cases tried to provide some kind of protection for people, provide a place where they can come forward to speak in private and without being witnessed by other people even by coming there and so on. But our commitment to at least recording finally the responsibility of individuals is there. Where we might not name people for fear of igniting further fires, we might keep that confidential at this stage.

POM. Do you think there is a case to be made that special exemption should be made for KwaZulu/Natal, that a blanket amnesty might be, since there were so many atrocities on both sides, that a blanket amnesty might be the best way of dealing with the situation, that in any other situation you are almost inevitably setting up another cycle, in a province well known for revenge, cycles of revenge killings, that you're laying the groundwork for another cycle of revenge killings by, again, specifying individuals?

MB. I don't think that a blanket amnesty is the answer. I recognise the sensitivity of the situation there. I think what we've seen about blanket amnesties in other countries is that they never settle anything and that the issues go on festering and they come up again years later. So I don't think that a blanket amnesty would be the solution to the divisions in Natal. But I don't say that I have an answer. I think that our work there is particularly difficult.

POM. I know that just a week ago I was in Durban talking to some people in the IFP and again it's like how different sides to a conflict have different refrains almost. They're like mantras and their mantra is, well how many of the 400 of our people who were killed have the Truth Commission investigated? They haven't investigated any of our people. They are always investigating victims who are ANC members, not victims who are IFP members and it's loaded in favour of the ANC hence our rejection of the legitimacy of the Truth commission. Have you made any headway in dealing with that kind of argument or is it just entrenched?

MB. It's very difficult because we would investigate any case that was brought to us but the reality is that the initial response of the IFP to the commission was such that IFP members were frightened to come and speak to the commission for fear of retribution from their own party. The pronouncements from the leadership, even if they were not intended to sound as they did, sounded like a very strong opposition to the commission and a determination not to make statements to it. So the ordinary member, particularly unskilled, possibly illiterate member of the IFP, believes that he or she is at risk if they come forward to make a statement. Some of them have done so anyway either because they had personal knowledge of individuals or whatever. And of course the whole question of whether only people who make statements will be eligible for reparation is a spur to people to come forward. So if IFP members make a statement we will investigate it as assiduously as any other, in fact probably more so, in an effort to try and win back the trust of the IFP. It is to me a great tragedy that that trust doesn't exist and when I think even of the way that when the commission was appointed, the President appointed 17 commissioners, which was the maximum, the commission had no capacity for example to then co-opt additional commissioners, but it did have the power to co-opt additional committee members and we co-opted a particularly large number of committee members to KwaZulu/Natal in order to try and bring in people who would be seen to be non-partisan, to be seen to have the trust, who played a role as mediators in the past and so on, and even that doesn't seem to have brought about the confidence of the IFP.

POM. This is a question that arose when the commission began and to which Archbishop Tutu gave an answer which everyone might now modify and it is if the commission uncovers information that could lead to a coup, a right wing rebellion or the collapse of the government should it release it? And at the time Archbishop Tutu came down on the side of non-transparency. He said the commission has to right to determine when it sees fit that some or all of a particular piece of disclosure should not be made generally known to the public. Now that came under scrutiny last week when the whole question of the naming of ANC police informants came up. Has the commission now taken a final position on that?

MB. No, I am sure that will be discussed at our meeting next week.

POM. What's your own view? If the naming of senior members of, let us hypothesise that there are senior government ministers who were police informants at one time or another, would the disclosure of their names, if the commission thought that the disclosure of their names could have a destabilising impact on the government, should it refuse to release the names or do you think it should release the names, that wherever the consequences fall the truth must out and this is part of the cleansing process?

MB. I think people must all be treated impartially and must have the same rights. So if we, for example, through the gathering of information process are duty bound to give people who are named as having committed some offence the right to rebut, we must do the same thing for people who are accused through the amnesty process of having been guilty of some actions. But having done so I would be very reluctant to see us maintaining secrecy because people are in high places and are important or Cabinet members or are members of the governing party. So I think a great deal of wisdom is required in this. Certainly one would not want the commission to take such a high moral position that it took no regard of possible really serious repercussions in terms of national stability and I think we should think carefully and not rush to assure the public of our holiness, that we're going to tell everything right away or whatever. But I would really not think that the commission should be part of any kind of cover up that would benefit one political party or another so the decision has to be taken on the merits of the case and the merits of justice and of even-handedness. We have been accused often, for example, of having named officials of the state in hearings without giving them an opportunity to state their side of the case and we've been taken to court about that and there have been various levels of decision and the latest Appellate decision is that people must be given proper notice and proper information if they are to be publicly identified as perpetrators and must have the right to respond.

POM. That will slow the whole process down immeasurably since you have an influx of lawyers and Attorneys and Advocates and all kinds of legal manoeuvrings going on. Given that you have 169 days, I think it's 168 days left, that out of about 5200 applications for amnesty only decisions have been made in 47 cases, what are your options in terms of trying to determine the full truth and completing your job satisfactorily?

MB. I think those are the things we will have to look at when we discuss it next week. I don't feel that I have weighed up all the different pros and cons well enough to be able to make up my own mind. I would like us to come to a commission decision. I am just saying that I think that whatever we do it has to be done equally to people of all political persuasions and we mustn't be rail-roaded simply because people are in government now into either disclosing or not disclosing names. We must do what is the appropriate thing for the commission's work.

POM. Do you think parliament is open to extending the time frame of the commission or that it will insist on adhering to the time frame?

MB. I think parliament has been very committed to adhering to the time frame and I myself believe that it is our duty to try and complete the task in the time given to us for a variety of reasons, partly because of the huge cost of this commission, partly because I think it is a very destabilising process for the country to be going through and we will in any event only be completing our report into the second quarter, well it's supposed to be the end of the first quarter of 1998. The country faces national elections in 1999 and I think we ought to be able to say that we have really put to bed a great deal of this. If we can't do it then I think we need to at least recommend some mechanism which can take it forward beyond the life of the commission and I have no idea yet what mechanism that might be.

POM. How much more time do you have?

MB. No I'm all right, I don't have any other commitment.

POM. Let me back up and ask some more personal questions. What, to you, has been the most touching thing, touching to you personally, that has come out of this whole process? What has been the most disturbing and what has affronted you the most? If the commission had to be set up again would you set it up differently?

MB. Those are lots of questions. It's hard to remember really what has been the most affronting, to use your word. I think all of us have had moments when we have lost our composure in public, at the public hearings particularly at the beginning when we were facing these very, very painful stories. In the first public hearing in Cape Town an elderly couple came forward to talk. Their son at that time, aged 15, had been either a participant or a bystander in some incident, which would have been called an unrest incident in those days, and was shot dead. He didn't come home when they expected him to come home and they set out to look for him and they tried the hospitals and then they tried the morgues and it was days before they found him. Nobody came to tell them what had happened, they had no official notification of what had happened. There was eventually an inquest, they were not told about the inquest. They had no power to do anything about what had happened to them, not even to have proper information about what was happening. The mother told her story and one of the commissioners then asked the father what he would feel if he had the person responsible for his son's death in front of him. We were all learning our way at that stage and learning to ask the questions that might or might not bring helpful answers. The father stood up and out of him poured a torrent of impotent rage, still, this had happened quite a long time ago. And he said, "What could I do? Nothing, in the same way as I could do nothing then. I have never been able to do anything. People were able to ride roughshod over everything that happened to me. They neither told me nor helped me nor explained to me nor anything." And he said, "I didn't want to come here. I only came because of my wife. I don't think this is going to do anything for me and I'm still angry." And I just felt that it was such an honest account of his experience and very little that we could do was going to make it better and the only thing that I could say to him was that we hoped that this process will lead to a future where 15 year olds are safe when they go out.

. Well for me a test of whether we can achieve anything in the way of reconciliation would be to go back to Mr and Mrs ... and ask them how they feel now, whether in fact all of this process has made any difference to them. I doubt whether we would be able to establish any more information. It was an unrest incident and the police dealt with it as was seen to be appropriate at that stage. So what will we have achieved for them will be a question that I would want to answer for myself by the end of the commission. Now I've lost track a bit of your other questions.

POM. I think you said what you found most touching was the Guguletu Seven.

MB. Yes, the way the mothers -

POM. What you found most disturbing; is that the case of the couple from Cape Town you've mentioned?

MB. Yes I suppose so.

POM. What has affronted you most?

MB. Well I think we all feel affronted by the way in which people who acted for the state seem to feel that they did what they did under orders. They would do it again, it was necessary at the time. But I feel that with my head. I watch on television or I listen when I'm present at one of the amnesty applications or at some of our closed hearings and I still feel a degree of understanding for even some of the worst perpetrators, for the position in which they found themselves. Because as I was saying earlier not many people are brave and noble. Most people just do the job that is theirs to do and if the surroundings in which they function are surroundings where people are brutal, degraded, inhuman even, then for many people the tendency will be to go along with the herd.

POM. One, would you regard apartheid as being a crime against humanity? Two, Kader Asmal in his book says that it was a crime against humanity, it was genocide and comparable to nazism and how would you distinguish between a guard at a concentration camp in nazi Germany brutalising or killing somebody or as being a participant in the activities of the death camp and the elimination of the Jews as a stated political objective, which was the stated political objective of the nazi government? It wasn't a cultural one it was a political one.

MB. Yes that's right, so that's where the blame must lie. I do believe that apartheid was a crime against humanity.

POM. But can it be equated with nazism? I will tell you who was making this point, it was Judge Goldstone who I had in Boston recently on a tour and he was talking about the War Tribunals in The Hague and in Rwanda and he was emphatic on the point that to equate the crimes committed under apartheid with what happened in either Bosnia or in Rwanda was ridiculous, or with what happened under the nazis was ridiculous. It trivialised the level of killing and evil. Trivialised is probably the wrong word.

MB. Yes, no, I understand the argument. I'm trying to measure my own response to that. I just think that the killing of any one human being, especially for a political objective, is evil. And so whether it was six million or whether it was 1000 or 2000 the evil is not different, the planning, the planned killing, the determined killing. I don't believe that we had death camps and concentration camps here. We certainly had large numbers of people killed at one time, maybe with a political objective. People have said that the comparison trivialises the holocaust. I don't think so. I think the evil is just as enormous. The enormity of the actions, whether it's one person or whether it's millions, the effect on that person is the same. So I don't really find it helpful to make comparisons one way or the other. I just think this was an evil system, that it brutalised the people who had to enforce it because the only way it could be enforced was by brutality.

POM. And yet not a single person from the National Party has come forward and said apartheid was evil. Some of them have moved so far as to say, well, it was wrong, or at least petty apartheid was wrong and grand apartheid was a good intentioned policy that went awry. But what disturbs me is that among those who are leaders in their communities that there is this kind of almost belligerent sense of not admitting that what they did was evil even if they didn't fully understand it at the time and therefore the accountability factor somehow is thrown out of the window.

MB. It would be wonderful if people did respond in that way because I believe that the deeds would justify that kind of response. But I think we have to recognise that that was not a party whose government was defeated in a war. It still wishes to play a political role. It is not realistic to expect its spokespersons to react in that way for very cynical political reasons, and that for us as commissioners to try and make that happen would, I think, be outside of the purposes of what we're established to do. I think, if we're talking about reconciliation and building a unity in the future and so on that the task is to expose what happened, to seek ways in which reparation and reconciliation can be achieved rather than to apportion the kind of blame which would force people into that kind of corner. I think we grapple with that a great deal.

POM. Again, on the affronting, what has affronted you the most as you sat there at hearings?

MB. Well I think in terms of personal affront yes, the fact that people do not take responsibility for dreadful deeds.

POM. What most troubles you about the process?

MB. Not an easy answer because in one way what troubles all of us is the fact that this commission itself is a result of compromise and many of us have been in a rather luxurious position in the past, of criticising from the outside instead of having to grapple with reality and now we are forced to defend a compromise. But I can't say that that troubles me very deeply. That is a concern that I have to face when I have to speak to the public and so on but I thought very long and hard before being willing to serve on this commission precisely because of that compromise but I believe that it was the only option and if that compromise is necessary to bring about a result then we have to live with it. We have a bit of a tendency in the commission to say that's the fault of the legislators, don't blame us, the negotiators agreed on this and we have to live with it. That's true but we had the option of not being part of it if we couldn't stomach it and now that we're here I don't think we should try and pass the buck. We should recognise that it is a flawed process as all such commissions have been flawed processes and one just hopes that you do better each time round and learn from the past in a very difficult situation.

POM. If the process had to be redesigned? If tomorrow morning you could start from scratch again how would you like to see things set up differently?

MB. I think that's a thing that we must give attention to. I'm not sure that I'm ready to do that. I think perhaps we have been very ambitious and tried to cover vast fields. It might have been easier to have a narrower focus on what we would investigate. I think our definition of severe ill-treatment goes on to be one that we still agonise over. One of the categories of gross violations is severe ill-treatment and there is no definition of it, so all of us have our own views on what constitutes severe ill-treatment.

POM. I think that's about it. Thank you very much. I'll have this transcribed as quickly as possible and I might come back to you again because one of the things I want to do in Northern Ireland is to - I hope out of this conference that's happening in June, in fact Alex Boraine is speaking, to talk about the possibility of setting up some kind of Truth Commission there because, again, it's like who did what to whom, when, the grievances stored up, held in the heart, transferred from generation to generation that perpetuate the conflict.

MB. We have a great deal to learn from each other I think.

POM. Yes. OK. Thank you ever so much.

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.