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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
31 Jul 1998: Kathrada, Ahmed
POM. Mr Kathrada, good to see you again. As I said you look healthier and younger every time I see you.
AK. Well I feel better, certainly now that parliament is going to come to an end one of these days and we're going to be campaigning for the next elections.
POM. Do you look forward to campaigning for the next election?
AK. Oh yes, very much so.
POM. One of the frequent criticisms I hear of the ANC, that's among African people and Indians and coloureds, is that the ANC has lost touch with its constituency, somehow a lot of people feel abandoned and their abandonment is kind of bordering on disillusionment. It's not that they're going to vote anti-ANC, it's just that they just feel hurt in a certain way. Is this acknowledged within the ANC?
AK. Well I tell you there is some merit in this type of allegation but it's not universal so that there are no particular constituencies. The ANC, of course, allocated constituencies to its members. I can't speak on behalf of all the constituencies but I do know that in many of the constituencies the people have kept in touch. What is partly responsible for this allegation is that when people were deployed to constituencies they were not necessarily resident in those constituencies so that they were not known, unlike fortunately three or four of us who come from Lenasia and that's our constituency so we have been working there and we are known there. But that's not true of every other member. There have been people who come from the Free State or Johannesburg deployed to Natal. I am saying that there is some merit in the criticism. Some of the people have not really been doing constituency work as they should have been doing, so there is some merit.
. I also tend to agree that there is a certain amount of apathy, disillusionment, if you can call it that, among ANC supporters. Again, there are various reasons that can be given. One is the high expectations, unrealistic expectations. The President repeats over and over again that in every one of his pre-election speeches he and almost all of us at every meeting stressed that things are not going to change overnight. It's happened nowhere in the world, it's not going to happen here. You can describe the SA transformation as a miracle but the miracle also has got its limitations. But the masses' expectations from day one: where is our house, where is our electricity, where is this, where is that? So there have been unrealistic expectations as well. On the other hand it's also true that a number of local councils where that delivery takes place, local councils, there has been very little delivery. That's also true but I'm not in a position to give statistics to where delivery has taken place and where not. I agree that there is a certain amount of merit in the criticism but I wouldn't say that it is true, universally true of all the constituencies in SA.
POM. To just transpose, you wrote a very moving and wonderful piece on the President that was published in the Independent, your memories of Mandela and the struggle. One theme that emerged, and has emerged in recent weeks as I talk to people from different parts of the alliance, is that it's made clear or it comes across that in the 1940s the President himself used to break up rallies of the SACP.
AK. Well if I can just correct that, I think if you're referring to this supplement in which my article was published, I think I refer to one incident where he tried to break up a meeting and it was not an SACP meeting, it was an ANC meeting, but at that time the Youth League differed with the ANC Transvaal on the alliance. So it was the one that I referred to. What is true, and what I said in the article, is his general attitude at that time was not in favour of co-operation with other liberation organisations. I also made it clear that the Youth League attitude was not necessarily racialistic, it was an extreme form of nationalism and nationalism does not necessarily mean racialism. I think I made that point. Incidentally, I am told that part of that was published in the Independent of England.
POM. That's right.
AK. The whole one?
PAT. Part of it.
POM. They picked selectively and that was one of the parts that they picked because it implied that the President was opposed to the SACP.
AK. Oh yes, that's true. That point I made. He was anti-communist. There's no doubt about that. He regarded it as a foreign ideology which had no place in SA. So that apart from his opposition to co-operate with the other national groups in SA, minority groups, Indians, coloureds etc. and whites, there was also the additional factor about the SACP because the Youth League was anti-communist at the time.
POM. What moved both the ANC and him in the direction of that you were natural allies?
AK. Well the ANC, there should be a distinction between the ANC and the Youth League, it was the Youth League that held this view, not the ANC, because you found that although there was no alliance in the earlier years but from time to time there was co-operation between the ANC at the national level and provincial level between the ANC and the other organisations. But as far back as 1947 there was the well known 'Doctor's Pact', Dr Dadoo and Dr Naicker of the Indian Congress and Dr Xuma, President of the ANC. They signed a Pact in 1947, a Pact of Co-operation. Now that could have been the genesis of an alliance, a formal alliance, which took place later. The ANC was consistent from 1912, it never was racialistic or antagonistic towards other groups. The Youth League, yes, but not the ANC.
POM. But it wasn't until the mid-1980s that formally the SACP were accepted as members of, that white people, were accepted as members of the ANC.
AK. Well the ANC until 1969 did not accept non-Africans in its membership and in 1985 they went further and allowed non-Africans to occupy official positions in the ANC. But that is not to say that it was racialistic because its policy statements right from 1912 were non-racial and that was very consistent. The constitution itself changed much later, first in 1969 in Morogoro where they opened up the membership to non-Africans and in 1985 at Kabwe where they then allowed non-Africans to occupy official positions, but that was a constitutional change. I went to prison in 1963, sentenced to life, for ANC activities.
POM. Do you not find it ironic that an organisation that was fighting segregation and division and apartheid in itself had kind of an apartheid policy, that you have to be of a certain colour in order to qualify for membership?
AK. I wouldn't call it apartheid. Even the Communist Party in the first years was a white organisation in SA. This was more to do with the situation that existed at the time and because of the years of segregation. You take the Indian people or the coloured people, they wouldn't have readily accepted joining the ANC. Now you take the Indian people for instance, the Indian Congress was led right up to 1945/46 by really conservative elements who believed in representations to the government for the benefit of the Indians alone. That was it. It was the gradual what one may call the radicalisation of politics in SA as far as the Indians were concerned with the arrival from Edinburgh of two doctors, Dr Dadoo and Dr Naicker, Dr Naicker in Natal and Dr Dadoo in the Transvaal, that they started campaigning for non-European unity. But the thing was even if the ANC constitution allowed others to join they were not going to get people to join because the people had to be prepared for that. It was quite a process. So it wasn't apartheid or anything of the sort, it was more taking account of the realities of the situation at the time.
POM. One hears more and more now that the government or whatever is not sufficiently African, that there is too much influence from Indians in particular and that under a government of Mr Mbeki that it will become more Africanised as distinct from -
AK. Well there again, you see the media and even political analysts tend to hook onto statements made by an individual or two. Now before the Mafikeng conference of December last a statement is reportedly to have been made by Peter Mokaba but the conference gave its unequivocal answer to that. It was not even an issue. In the election of the top leadership of the ANC seven out of the ten top positions were held by non-Africans. These elections took place among 3000 delegates over 95% of whom were African. Now the media and no political analysts have made anything of that but they keep harping on to what Peter Mokaba had said. I should have said that what Peter Mokaba is reported to have said, because he subsequently corrected what he is reported to have said, in any case Mafikeng gave a clear answer to that and that is ANC delegates from throughout the country so that any allegation or reported allegation that there are too many Indians in the cabinet and so forth is not borne out by the feeling of the membership of the ANC.
POM. What I get when I talk to the Indian community is a certain feeling of alienation, that they are a marginal component and a people caught in between, of having been more privileged during the apartheid years and not accepted by whites and at the same time now feeling that they are not quite accepted by Africans.
AK. Well there again I'd say I know of that, I come from the Indian community and I know of this. Again it's a question of exaggerated expectations. When you examine the cabinet, when you examine the composition of parliament, of the ANC, you will find that the Indians, who constitute 3% of the population of this country, are over-represented. I will cite one example of how incorrect these perceptions are. I was at a meeting in Gauteng where the Deputy President spoke and naturally he spoke of affirmative action and so forth and after he left other speakers followed, Indians, who complained about, "My son has a 1st class matric pass and couldn't get into university", and "My daughter or my sister had six distinctions and couldn't get into Medical School." We listened to all that, but then came the Registrar of that university who is an Indian Professor, he came and said that, look, tell the Deputy President that there is discrimination at my university but the statistics show that the discrimination is in favour of the Indians. In other words, proportionally more Indians have been accepted than others. So in every area you find, one can't bear it out by statistics, but in every area you find Indians, coloureds, whites, white females in positions from which they were excluded in the past. There may be cases, of course, where people have been overlooked for one reason or another, sometimes even racial reasons. One can't deny that in this transformation period but generally the perceptions are not correct.
POM. Well perceptions are a reality in a sense that -
AK. Unfortunately they tend to become reality. I know that we have to do a lot of educating, a lot of work among all communities. Again, one must take into account the type of racial propaganda that our opponents are making which is very effective. You go to the Cape here, the Nationalists still keep on making this racial propaganda, not as overtly as they did in 1994 but they still do it, that the influx of Africans is endangering your lives, your position and so forth. Now to some extent of course it's economic. Africans were excluded from the Western Cape under the old laws because the Nationalists regarded the Western Cape as a so-called coloured preference area, excluded the Africans. These laws were then repealed and Africans started coming in in numbers and they got employment at lower salaries, lower wages. This was an economic threat to the coloured workers who were occupying certain jobs. And similarly in Natal with the Indians. So that has also to be taken into account. Because of the transformation where things have opened up among the lower strata of the economic scale people do feel threatened by the Africans, Africans who were excluded from areas, geographically and by law. You had the so-called job reservation which favoured whites, coloureds and Indians. Africans were excluded from skilled positions and when they entered skilled positions they were regarded as a threat by the other communities. So those are also economic realities.
POM. But do you have a sense of, for example, just talking about the Indian community, that they are drifting away from rather than towards the ANC?
AK. Well if you take the last elections, they did not vote for the ANC. Natal did not vote for the ANC. The coloureds in the Cape did not vote for the ANC. Transvaal Indians did vote for the ANC, both in the 1994 elections and subsequent local government elections, they did vote for the ANC. But those are much smaller numbers. The bulk of the Indian community is in Natal and the bulk of the coloured community is in the Cape here, Western Cape. There as I said this racial propaganda did have its effect, it still is having its effect and I repeat, a lot of work, a lot of education has to be done to get those votes because it's not a question of Indians veering away from the ANC, they did not vote for the ANC in the first place.
POM. My question would be, is this a natural division of where the Indian community sees itself as being inherently different from the African community?
AK. Again you've got to take into account how apartheid applied and segregation before that. It was in gradations. On top of the ladder were the whites, just below them in the Cape here it was the coloureds, in the rest of the country it was the Indians, then came the Africans at the bottom of the ladder. So in every sphere of life you had that. You take the land laws, although the Indians were very heavily discriminated against they were still better off than Africans. Under apartheid you had this position where Africans were not allowed into what was called white South Africa so that the few areas where they were allowed to own property were taken away because they were told your homeland is the Transkei, etc., which constituted 13% of the land of this country. Indians, although they were put into group areas they were still regarded as South Africans, they were still having opportunities, so that economically - I mean I got a surprise myself when I came out of prison. Before we went into prison we knew that a large percentage, 50% - 60% of the Indian population of SA were living below the bread line. When we came out of prison after 25/26 years when I went to Lenasia, to Johannesburg, we found an affluent community which was not there before. So they also benefited from group areas although they were uprooted and it caused tremendous disruption in their lives, but in the end they benefited, which the Africans didn't.
POM. Why do you think that the Indian community, picking Indian because you are Indian, why do you think there is this great feeling of threat, that as a small community they are going to get squeezed out whether it's in terms of affirmative action or any other disposition?
AK. It's also the way the media works. Crime, for instance, now that's a very big thing among the Indians and among all communities naturally, the media will keep on highlighting this white farmer has been killed or that Indian has been murdered and so forth and then we live in a close community, take Lenasia again, a very close-knit community where at least one member of the family will know another member, so that when a murder takes place in Lenasia, Lenasia South, the rest of Lenasia will feel it because we know one another. Yet statistics show that crime is worse in the African areas. It's always been, murder, rape, robbery, everything, and still remains, but that doesn't get newspaper headlines so that when you have newspaper headlines the white farmers feel that they are singled out as victims, the Indians in Lenasia feel they are being singled out as victims which in fact is not so. So these things have led to this feeling of being marginalised whereas it is really not so.
POM. But how do you change that? I mean a feeling is a feeling, it's a real thing, a reality, an objective fact which is understood in the brain but not in the heart. How do you go about changing that feeling of marginalisation? Many Indians that I talk to feel that they are more excluded now in a certain way than they were under apartheid, that they see the Africanisation of society happening where they become more marginalised, irrelevant, abandoned, simply left out and they don't know where they fit. They don't know whether they're South Africans or whether they're, again, it almost comes back to the question of identity, where do I belong?
AK. As I say, first of all there are these perceptions and as you rightly point out perceptions tend to become reality but it needs a lot of work on our part. Now that is political work, you need to tell them that under apartheid as bad as things were the University of Dublin opened up, I think about 800 SA Indian doctors qualified there because Wits and Cape Town, the two white universities which previously admitted Indians stopped admitting them, except by permit, by ministerial permit. So Dublin opened up and I think I am quite correct in saying 700 - 800 Indian doctors qualified there. The Africans did not have that opportunity.
POM. You're talking about Dublin?
AK. Ireland, yes.
POM. The Royal College of Surgeons.
AK. That's right. And they went to India, they went to Cairo, they qualified there. The Africans did not so we have to educate them. It's not easy. Even under apartheid there were avenues that opened up to Indians or that were there and which they could take advantage of which Africans for economic and other reasons, because the previous governments just refused to give even passports to Africans, which they didn't do with Indians. With the Indians they gave them passports and with coloureds they gave them passports. The Africans didn't, they had to struggle to get passports. But those are things we have to remind them of.
POM. So far it would seem that after four years you're not doing a very successful job in doing that?
AK. Oh it's been uphill, it's been an uphill battle and we realise that, it remains an uphill battle. That's why I just said at the beginning I am looking forward to campaigning because this is the type of thing we have to bring home to the people. We have to make them realise that there is not going to be a white government in this country any more. That they can forget about. I mean there are people who say that under the Nats they were better off and all that, they are not really talking the truth.
POM. But I don't even think the Nats themselves believe that any longer.
AK. They don't, but you will find even among some of the Indians they are saying that, that they were better off under the Nats. So one has to bring home to them that there is never going to be a white government any more. If there is going to be a change in an African majority government it can only be worse because if you get the PAC or IFP or any of them in power, which is not a likely thing in the immediate future, but if you get them then you're going to see polarisation like you've never seen before. Then you'll find a repetition of your Amy Biehl thing over and over again because those are racialist organisations no matter what they say in public and on their platforms. They remain racist organisations. So the only salvation, the only hope for Indians, for coloureds, for whites is an ANC government. Naturally there are shortcomings, nobody can deny that, but it is within the ANC that they can improve things, not outside. That is what we have to bring home to people and that's how I personally, when we go campaigning among Indians, will try to bring that message back to them.
POM. I was very surprised by the speech the President gave at the 50th Congress in Mafikeng where he lashed out at everybody. One of his points was that he says the white dominated media is a force 'as opposed to the ANC'. Do you think the white press, that's Business Day, The Star - ?
AK. Well I wouldn't single out newspapers but generally we still have a white owned media not sympathetic to the ANC. Well one doesn't expect them to be but one expects them to be more objective. Just before you came in I just asked Olive to photocopy some articles just relating to Robben Island, and we are meeting the editor today in fact, just to show him the type of article the Cape Argus has published about Robben Island. We are saying, again, we are not for a moment expecting the media to support us, but please be objective. In other words Robben Island, I'm just speaking about Robben Island now, since the prison left it's just been .... two weeks ago when we had the President's birthday on a Sunday at 11 o'clock in the morning the computers broke down and the list of 2000 names and the various seating places disappeared at 11 o'clock and this function was that night. So there was an hour's delay, I don't know, by some miracle they managed to put things right but in the hour that people waited we had to go around to keep the people happy and one of the things I told them was that in my generation we used to write and use typewriters and nothing went wrong. Ever since they started with the computers things always go wrong. And that's what happened.
POM. You hear more about it in fact, just that people say our computers are down, whatever that means. And that means everything stops.
PAT. Like airplanes.
POM. Nothing can happen, and you wonder how people travelled in the old days. People got tickets and people travelled. However, to go back to the point that you were making.
PAT. You were talking about Robben Island and the way The Argus -
AK. That's right, so I've just selected four or five articles that appeared.
POM. Could I get a copy of those articles. I went out there last Sunday on the tour and I was disappointed. It was superbly organised. The tour of the island was under the Department of Technology and Culture and the young man who was being the tour guide had spent time on Robben Island yet the time we spent in the prison itself out of 2½ hours amounted to about ten minutes. There was an outside door in Section B that was like a little forum where you got an explanation of where people were and you could ask questions but nobody - in fact there were only all white people there and feeling suitably guilty, or mostly even tourists who knew nothing about the history of the country at all so they were asking very fundamental questions. Maybe that's my problem, feeling that well I know the answer to that question before they ask the question. But the rest of the time was spent going around the island and visiting the leper colony, there were the SADF with the guns during World War 2 or whatever and I felt that I didn't come here to travel on a bus around an island. I came here to get a sense - in the quarry where you all worked I think we spent five minutes and were shown the amount of wall that you had shoved back in the granite of the lime quarry. But I felt, frankly I felt cheated. I felt that I'm coming out of here without any real sense of what prisoners had to endure and the life they had to lead.
. For example, no-one said, and I'm comparing this in a way to Northern Ireland and forgive me if I go on for a couple of minutes. You said you worked from seven o'clock in the morning till four in the afternoon, then you were sent back to your cells. No-one said, well what time were you woken up by the prison authorities, how was breakfast served if there was a breakfast served. I also noted that the windows that even if you looked out the windows where I was observing from outside the cells, is that you could actually see out whereas in Northern Ireland in the way they constructed what was called the H-blocks where they detained people is that they put much narrower windows but at such a level that you could never look out. You wouldn't be able to jump up and look out so you had no sense of daylight. Also that they had metal doors which they used in Northern Ireland that would clamp shut and you could only speak by getting out through the keyhole to call a warden, whereas in Robben Island, which they don't do which I think they should do, is they don't close those brown doors on the outside so that the average tourist who goes through sees a window and also sees bars outside which you can look at not knowing that those doors were closed at four o'clock, but they weren't metal doors, you could still hammer at the door on the outside in a way. So I came away feeling very disappointed.
POM. Let me give you a task then. Can you write your impressions. I ask everybody who makes observations to do that, both the positive and the negative. I tell you why, the last meeting of the Robben Island Council took a decision to put everything on the back burner, priority is tourism and let us perfect that. This type of a remark that you are making, many people have made that. No, this type of thing helps us to persuade our own administration there that the bulk of the people are not really interested in seeing that when a baby was born, for a girl baby a pink flag would go up on the church.
POM. We heard that.
AK. People are not interested in that. Most people are not interested in the penguins. Foreigners are of course because they have never seen penguins.
POM. Or the springboks. I learned more about game reserves.
AK. And the kind of installations and so forth. We are meeting again in September and my own suggestion is going to be, since we're talking about Robben Island, that we take groups of people out in the morning and give them a choice. Those who want to spend hours and hours can do so in the prison, those who want to go around looking at penguins and the shipwrecks that's their choice, those who want to go to the village - and have an hourly shuttle back for those who don't want to stay longer, but give them choices and if people choose to spend their time in B block and the rest of the prison then have your guides, experts to deal with that and to deal with any questions that arise relevant to that.
POM. One wasn't taken to the A section or the C section, one was just taken to - this is where our leaders were.
AK. That's right. It's also a question of time. They spend too much time with things that most tourists don't want and they spend very little time in the prison itself which most tourists want to do.
POM. That's right.
AK. So those are things that we want to correct and that's why I'm saying I wish you could spend a few minutes and write down your impressions.
POM. I will do that.
AK. Now coming back to these articles, I'll give you copies of those. There was a front page headline, 'RACE ROW ROCKS ROBBEN ISLAND', front page headline on a Saturday morning. There was nothing of the sort. What is happening is that there is a person or two, in our staff, on Robben Island who feed a person or two in the Cape Argus and they just take that as gospel and they splash it. The day after there was another article, again in the Cape Argus, where this person refers to the tour guides as MK riffraff who failed to get jobs as bank robbers. So what we are saying, just about Robben Island, that we expect them - they must criticise us and their criticism on tourism is valid, a lot of it is valid because we have not been punctual, our guides have not been trained properly. Of course we remind them that the Council has only taken over the Island six months ago, before that we had an interim administration which had very little power. Now of course we are going privately to training our guides and so forth, so give us time. Another article compares Robben Island with Alcatraz. Now Alcatraz as a tourist attraction has been there for 20 years and I was very impressed myself when I went to Alcatraz with the way they've got the audio tapes. That's what we want to implement here as well. But having said that about Alcatraz, when I was asked at the end what do you think of Alcatraz? I said, well thank God I was on Robben Island! That is medieval, Alcatraz. All we are saying about the media, and I am just giving you an example of Robben Island, by all means criticise us but be objective and also report the positive. A lot is happening in the country which hardly gets mentioned in the media. They look for sensational things and there is a lot of negative too. We don't deny that. Report it but also give some space to the positive that's there.
POM. Why is it that the ANC continually excoriates what they call the white dominated media as a force opposed to the ANC? The President said that at Mafikeng. What advantage is there to them in doing so since you are the majority of the population and you're going to rule the country for maybe a generation or whatever, so there's no percentage gain in them being so oppositional?
AK. If you analyse these things carefully you see the continuation about mindset, that blacks can do no right so that you will find journalists who look for things and go out of their way to look for things just to prove their mindset that blacks can never do anything right. I don't think they factor people into the consequences of what they are saying, most of them don't. We have one journalist who goes out of her way to report negative things. We have now discovered that she was in England, applied to join the ANC in the eighties or seventies, I don't know, eighties yes, was rejected because she was suspect, she was regarded as an informer for the Nationalist government. She has come back, she is now writing for one of the dailies and going out of her way at every little opportunity to look for something negative. You hardly see her writing anything positive about the government.
POM. If you give me her name I will never use it but then I will look for her articles.
AK. I prefer not to because we are seeing her editor not today but in the near future, to bring this type of thing to their attention. So you have that type of thing, it's a mindset from which we have to get them to move and we remind them that our constitution guarantees freedom of the press so even if we want to we can't muzzle them and we don't want to.
POM. So when the Deputy President in his speech before parliament, I think it was on 4th June, where he gave his 'Two Nations' speech, one or two things struck me and in particular one was his saying that there has been no real progress towards reconciliation after four years. Would you agree with that?
AK. I don't. I differ with the Deputy President if that's what he's trying to say.
POM. They were his precise words, I have them written down.
AK. I am not disputing that. No, I believe on the contrary that there has been. It's not as much as one would like but I think there has been progress towards nation building, towards reconciliation. In particular I point out the Afrikaners. I think the change is so evident. Take into account 1994 when you had almost 100% of the Afrikaners opposing this change and then you had a sizeable percentage of Afrikaners who were mobilising for an uprising, a violent uprising, Constand Viljoen and that. The first big breakthrough came when the ANC negotiators managed to persuade Constand Viljoen to take part in the elections which split the white right wing in half. So Constand Viljoen is sitting in parliament with us. But then you take the Conservative Party of Ferdi Hartzenberg who at first refused to have anything to do with the new government. Now they come and see the President regularly, they have recognised that he is the elected President. They are now going to take part in the elections. Even Eugene Terre'Blanche, as wild as he is, does recognise that there is a change of government, there is a President in this country.
POM. Is he in jail or is he not?
AK. Not yet. He's lost some appeal or other motion.
POM. His offices are closed in Ventersdorp.
AK. There are still pockets, I am sure there are pockets of white right wingers like those who are now being caught stealing arms. So there would be those and they will continue for some time. But I am saying that among the political parties one cannot ignore this change and change of attitudes are as important as material changes. My family comes from a rural area in what was the Transvaal, a very, very right wing area, white right wing, and I go there every now and then and meet whites who still are right wing but they too have acknowledged the changes that are taking place. They too acknowledge that there is a majority government in the country, that they cannot talk any longer of a violent overthrow of this government. Now those are very significant changes.
POM. Why, Mr Kathrada, would the President, and it's very difficult to distinguish between the President as having been President of the ANC and President of the country because his moral stature is so high that people don't make a distinguishing element between the roles he used to play between one and the other and yet he said in this speech and this troubled me, I am just being frank with you, it has troubled me because it seemed to me to be not the Nelson Mandela that I had listened to for the last seven or eight years. It's like a lashing out and he says NGOs 'have no popular base in the actuality, that they rely on domestic and foreign governments rather than the people for their material sustenance and work to corrode the work of the government', that's the NGOs, that's one. Two, that the National Party: our experience over the last three years confirms that the NP has not abandoned its strategic objective of the total destruction of our organisation and movement. That the Democratic Party which has no policy differences with the NP has sought to position itself as an implacable enemy of the ANC ... the spaces to convince the supporters of the NP to switch their allegiance to itself. That the Freedom Front is imprisoned in its 'narrow pursuit of so-called African self-determination'. Well the only people he praised were the IFP and George Soros who has speculated against your currency, major attacker of it. And then the Freedom Front, the IFP, he picks on Roelf Meyer and Bantu Holomisa as former bedfellows, functionaries of the apartheid system and its security forces ... to draw into its ranks some of the most backward and corrupt elements of our society. That the leaders of criminal gangs at its founding conference was no accident, that some from this group will promote its interests by resort to criminal violence against the people and especially supporters of the ANC and the rest of the democratic movement, that efforts will be made to infiltrate agents of the UDM into the structures of our movement to try to destroy us from within. That elements of the third force will not hesitate to link up with members of the UDM to further a common counter-revolutionary agenda. That both the objectives of the NP and the UDM converge around the one critical objective to both, to destruction of the ANC. Now, do you not think that's a little bit paranoid?
AK. I wouldn't say that. This was a five hour speech at a party political conference of the ANC. Perhaps - I would agree for instance with some of the remarks he made about the NGOs. There are NGOs who continue to interfere in South Africa's politics, American NGOs who try to dictate what should happen in SA. They spend a lot of money towards this end.
POM. When you say they try to interfere what do you mean by that?
AK. In the internal affairs of SA. They pump money into NGOs, some of them are small, tiny NGOs, and get them to do things which are not healthy for the country.
AK. Well there are NGOs in America, I don't want to single out any particular ones, but there are - I am naming America because the main culprits are there but there are others as well in Europe too who have got a lot of money and who finance NGOs, tiny NGOs here and create a lot of confusion here. Now unfortunately the remarks of the President were a bit too general, so much so that some of our best friends in Scandinavian countries thought that the attack was also aimed at them which it wasn't. So perhaps it was a bit too generalised this attack on the NGOs.
POM. So he's really talking about Americans?
AK. I am singling them out but I also say there are also NGOs in other countries. They wouldn't have been singled out had some of them not been so big, had so much money they are pouring into the country. As for his attacks on the other parties, by and large I would agree with him. I mean the DP is the worst of all the parties in this country, the very worst. They have not got out of the old mindset when they were founded, which was a whites' only party, it took them some years to change from there and its composition is still really white with a few token blacks there. They have got a black doctor now, she was a failure as a medical person so this was a good thing for her to come into parliament, but it remains a party with white interests, not only interests of white ordinary people, of white big business. That's how it was founded. It was financed by them and it still remains that. What they have not changed, what they have not realised, is that even sections of white business are now accepting the new dispensation yet they harp on some of these things that have been said over the years. So the DP I have absolutely no disagreement with the President about the DP. It is not constructive, it is destructive.
POM. Their answer to you would be that as a small party that what the constitution provides for is a multi-party democracy, that their function, as in the UK for example, is to criticise and be in opposition to and keep the government, the ruling party, on its feet and on its toes and in that way it provides, they would say, a vital function in the evolution towards a viable multi-party democracy. But you just see them as being destructive?
AK. The DP, I am saying so, and I am not saying that they should go out of existence, not for a minute do I say that. The constitution guarantees them their existence so that I am not for a moment saying that. I am talking about their role in parliament and outside. Again, it's just picking on the negatives and exaggerating it. If you just see, I hope I've got it here, I was just looking at it this morning, now if we just look at this motion here.
POM. That's a motion -
AK. By an ANC chap.
POM. It's given on 10th June 1998, draft resolution by Mr Feinstein that the House notes that the recent comments of Democratic spokesperson on health, Mr Mike Ellis described outgoing Health Department Director General Olive Shisana as (1) hard-working, enthusiastic, always well briefed and conscientious in her handling of queries, and (2) further notes that Mr Ellis's contradictory comments two years ago that Dr Shisana's integrity would be seriously questioned in future and it was inconceivable that she should remain in office and that Dr Shisana was party to a tangled web of half truths and untruths which were designed to do nothing more than deliberately mislead. (3) Therefore he believes that Mr Ellis's doublespeak on Dr Shisana is the latest example of amnesia from a party which backed conscription and the latest example on cross-border incursions by the apartheid system and which votes with the FF and the NP in key budget votes in this House, and (4) resolves to call on all South Africans to reject the opportunistic conservative policies of polarisation that the DP represents and instead to advance real reconciliation and nation building in the interests of all in our country. Now he used this motion as -
AK. I am just giving you one example of this morning, I have just been looking at it. Now it's the type of thing the DP does. Anything that can have a dig at the ANC government they will do it regardless of what they said previously. They are looking for things against the ANC. Suddenly Olive Shisana, in their eyes, has become a wonderful person because she has had a disagreement with her minister and she's been retrenched from her position so she is now the heroine of the DP. But that happens all the time. I am saying that that is the type of thing that the DP is constantly guilty of.
POM. Have the DP become in a way more anti-government than the NP?
AK. No they are the same. I regard them as worse because they project this image of having been a progressive party. In my very first speech I made after I came out of prison I attacked them.
POM. The DP?
AK. Whatever it was called at the time. It's typical of their history what they are doing so to me it's not surprising at all. Of course one singles out a person like Helen Suzman with whom we disagree on many issues but she has been very consistent and she has been positive even in her criticism of the ANC and we have the best of relations with her. And there are others, Colin Eglin who sits in parliament with us. But the DP as led by Tony Leon is a different kettle of fish.
POM. So where would you place the NP as it now exists in relationship to the DP?
AK. I still regard the DP as worse because of the image that they projected in the past, the image of themselves. The Nats they are a dwindling party. I don't expect anything more from them. I think in time to come, in years to come, there will be some realignment of forces among the whites and the Nats will just fade away as they are constituted at present. But the thing is the Nats, we know the Nats, we know who they were and we don't accept that they have undergone any fundamental change, we don't accept that. So in that sense I'm not surprised at what they do.
POM. But they too are aware of the fact that unless they become a non-racial or multi-racial party they're going nowhere.
AK. Well they may be aware of that but look at the quality of people they've attracted in the non-whites. Not that the whites in the Nats are any better. I mean you just have to come to parliament and see the quality and there I differ with the criticism that our President makes of the Freedom Front. I differ with him because - I mean we differ with them fundamentally on policy. Absolutely, there is no doubt about that and we criticise one another, but the quality MPs that the Nationalists have had have moved over to the Freedom Front. That's quality people. Look at the ranks of the NP today. You can't single out one person, not one in the ranks of the NP who you can regard as quality people. They are not. They are just dinosaurs from the past who are just sticking on to this position.
POM. What about the UDM?
AK. Well the UDM has not been tested yet but also strange alliances there.
POM. The President makes extraordinary allegations about the presence of -
AK. There's nothing extraordinary there. You take Nkabinde when he was an ANC person, he admitted in the Natal Legislature that he has been a warlord. He said so. He has been a warlord responsible for - then he named his counterpart in the IFP who was also a warlord and said let us now forget our past and let us shake hands, we were both warlords.
POM. Who is that?
AK. Nkabinde, the Secretary of the UDM. So he has had that past.
POM. Who is his counterpart in the IFP?
AK. I forget now who it was, I forget the name of the person.
POM. Was it Thomas Shabalala?
AK. I forget. But this happened and the media carried it very widely. And he has been a warlord. It can't be ignored that since his release, his discharge, there have been so many killings in that area. Now I know people in that area who belong to the minority group who even when Nkabinde was in the ANC have been complaining about him, about his activities in that area.
POM. I suppose my dual question would be that, (i) when the UDM says, Bantu Holomisa says, we've a problem here, there's violence between supporters of the UDM and the ANC and that both parties ought to sit down together and try to fashion some resolution to this kind of conflict in order to prevent the killings of more people, that that is in line with President Mandela's often quoted statement that you negotiate with your enemies, not with your friends. And yet the ANC has taken a position that under no circumstances will it meet in a bilateral with the UDM to discuss this problem because 'it would just merely serve to enhance the stature of the UDM'. Now that seems to me that in the end all these problems have to be negotiated out between the parties involved. That's what you did with the NP government, that's what you did with the IFP, so why this adamant reluctance to sit down with the UDM and say let's talk about the violence that's going on?
AK. There are two factors there. If you read the ANC statements there were some differences between what the national leadership said and what the people on the spot said. The people on the spot are the ones who are directly affected. They are being killed. So I am not surprised at their reaction to the killings there. It's exacerbated by the fact that the way -
POM. Are the people on the ground saying don't talk, are they saying to the ANC on the ground don't talk?
AK. Yes they are saying don't talk because the police know the culprits. The police in preparing the case against Nkabinde did not do their work deliberately so that they didn't provide sufficient evidence to have him convicted. The Attorney General of Natal has been the same. He has consistently - I mean when he charged Magnus Malan, again he saw to it that not sufficient evidence was there for him to be convicted. The people who have committed or continue to commit these crimes many of them are known. Nkabinde is known. No action is taken about it. He is arrested and the police fail to prepare proper dockets against him so that he can't be convicted in a court of law. So the people on the ground, the ANC people, feel very bitter about this, about the police and they have come out with an unprecedented criticism of ANC ministers. The ANC has done so. So one appreciates their frustration. The President is reacting really to what he gets, I think he's been to the funerals there so he is really reacting to what the people on the ground are saying, ANC people. I don't think this is cast in stone what he is saying. If the situation merits it, if they feel that a solution can be found by sitting with these chaps I am sure that nobody is going to oppose it. At the moment they are not convinced that sitting with the UDM will lead to peace in that region.
POM. But isn't this in a way analogous to the situation where the President wanted to go and meet with the IFP and the famous phrase used was that he said that if he were to go there he would be throttled by elements of the ANC in KwaZulu/Natal who were totally opposed to his initiative to move and talk to Buthelezi or the IFP and yet in the end - ?
AK. Again, you've got to take into account he was influenced by leading elements in the ANC, Harry Gwala who is not alive any more. This Nkabinde was his lieutenant, was Harry Gwala's lieutenant. I am not for a moment saying Harry Gwala was a warlord or anything. Nkabinde of course by his own admission has said that he has been a warlord. But that was the leadership of the ANC. Gwala, apart from a leader in KwaZulu/Natal, he was a national leader and the ANC in Natal was influenced very much by Harry Gwala. Now you can't expect the national leadership to do something and close their eyes to what your provincial leadership and your local leadership is saying.
POM. But this is the same Nelson Mandela who in his autobiography says that when he came out of hospital that he was split from yourself and Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu.
AK. Not Govan Mbeki, we left him behind on Robben Island. He wasn't with us at all.
POM. So it was yourself -
AK. Sisulu, Mhlaba, and Mlangeni.
POM. He makes a point of saying that at one point, "I missed my comrades but on the other hand it allows me the freedom to do what I think ought to be done and that is to start to establish contacts with the government and that sometimes a leader must be in front of his followership and I knew that if I had discussed this with my colleagues, my three colleagues, that you for one would have opposed it." And he says a leader must be a leader. So when he came out of prison, with the likes of Harry Gwala why couldn't he take the same tone as that?
AK. You can't persist with that attitude regardless of the situation. This is his general approach to things but he has to from time to time take account of circumstances. He advocated talking to the IFP long ago. He couldn't take that further because of the attitudes that prevailed in Natal at the time among the ANC people. Having taken a step and when he saw that he was faced with this attitude of Natal ANC people he could not persist with that type of thing. But that doesn't change his position in principle. In principle he still believes in this. If the people on the ground start saying that we think the time has come for us to talk to the UDM, Mandela, who by the way is just a rank and file member of the ANC like I am these days, he is not going to oppose this. He is not going to oppose it, he will be guided by the people on the ground. So I don't think there is any element of inconsistency there. He may be wrong, he may be proved wrong, that one must always allow for it. There may be misjudgement. One must allow for that.
POM. To go back just to a couple more things, and as always thanks for your time and I hope I can come back and speak to you again. The President's birthday, again it upset me. It upset me in the sense of this being the celebration of the birthday of an icon. The rich and the famous went to Gallagher's Estate, they dressed in their best designer suits and clothes. They ate the best food, drank the best wine, toasted with the best champagne. I got the feeling that the President who had always said, "I will not make a cult of myself", had become the ultimate cult figure. It was excessive in regard to the condition of the rest of the country, the 20 or 30 million people who live in squatter towns or townships who couldn't even afford the bus fare to get to Gallagher's Estate, never mind anything else. It was full of Americans, Michael Jackson, who, as you would condemn, not condemn but who has escaped child abuse charges on the most marginal grounds, having him present as one of the leading celebrities, for a man who puts the care of children at the very centre of his personality and mission, all seemed slightly contradictory.
AK. First of all the President had nothing to do with his birthday celebrations. He didn't make any suggestions. I was on the committee. I agree 100% with you about Michael Jackson. If I look back I don't know how he landed there. But the President would not have intervened had we even invited him, Michael Jackson, to come there because he does not intervene in organisational matters. The birthday thing, for instance, he was out of it except for his agreement that he would be present at this function. As for the rest he had nothing to do with the birthday celebration. I have got a lot of criticism and I was a member of the committee. I have a lot of criticism about the foreign artists. Of course they didn't perform at the birthday, but some of them - I mean I don't know them.
POM. Why were they there?
AK. Yes. They were there for the concerts that subsequently took place, they came to perform there. Of course I know Stevie Wonder, I have a high regard for him. Yesterday I was with him on Robben Island too but he's a different kettle of fish. Michael Jackson, he's weird, but he was there. So the President had nothing to do with the birthday celebrations. As for the rich, a celebration, an event of that magnitude costs a lot of money. Originally we started off by thinking let's have a small affair on Robben Island. That was our thought. But then we said, no, when you have Robben Island you reduce the numbers even further, you can't talk of more than 200 people when you talk of an event on Robben Island. Secondly, there is always the weather. On many days the ferries can't run because of July. There the alternative was can we have it in Cape Town in some hall. First of all Cape Town hasn't got good venues. Secondly, it's again a question of cost. The bulk of your guests are not going to be from this area so are you now going to expect people to come to Cape Town?
POM. When you say the bulk of your guests, who are you talking about? People who are rich?
AK. I'm coming to that. The bulk of your guests are not going to come to Cape Town. The bulk of your guests were not the rich. Tables were sold where the rich paid. We didn't have a sponsor for that occasion. The guests were the spectrum of South African society, sports, culture, religion, the lot. Those made up the bulk of the guests, not the rich. They paid because we had to pay for that event. At a certain stage we had to stop selling tables and there were still many more demands from the rich to buy tables but we had to stop because otherwise it would have been completely unbalanced to have a very large number of tables sold to these people and fewer guests.
POM. This is a joke, but as a member of the Communist Party dedicated to the ideals or whatever of communism, you actually said let's stop taking money from the rich?
AK. I said so. I may have said so in my youth.
POM. You were saying we weren't selling any more tables to the rich?
AK. No we had to stop otherwise it would have been unbalanced and there were so many demands from the rich to buy tables. We could have sold the majority of the tables to the rich but we had to say now let's stop so that the guests that we want to be there - you know for a Mandela gathering 5000 is not enough, 50,000 is not enough. But we had to have a function where he himself is present, where you have a representative cross-section of SA society. Tony Leon was there, leader of the DP. Constand Viljoen was there, Buthelezi was there. Then of course the whole spectrum, political leaders, cultural, sports were there. Now of course in the process we must have left out a lot of people because in a function like that you just don't know who to get and who to leave out. We tried our best. But that's the position. And even the rich, if Anglo American bought a table it didn't mean that their ten guests were all the rich. You will find that among the guests of a lot of the people who bought tables were black, some of them were employees but they sat at those tables. I'm not saying that was the general position but you found some.
POM. So you don't see the whole celebration as perhaps being a little bit extravagant given the state of the country now not, being a little bit - making a cult figure into the ultimate -
AK. I would have agreed with you had the taxpayer paid for that. It's not the taxpayer who paid for it. It's these rich who bought tables and paid for that function.
POM. But they were paying for it because they wanted influence? They weren't paying for it out of goodwill.
AK. That's the type of thing that has been said about cabinet ministers that they will be influenced by eating with Oppenheimer, that type of thing some of our critics would say but of course that type of thing we don't even bother to reply to because that's questioning the integrity of the whole government and of President Mandela. But we have heard this type of thing that if you are going to eat with Rupert and Oppenheimer and these chaps you're going to be influenced by them to do them favours. It can happen of course but on the whole I don't think that any finger can be pointed to any of our cabinet ministers that they were influenced by these chaps. The rich also form an important sector of SA society. They run the economy still, they control the economy of the country so that when you talk of the spectrum of SA society you can't leave them out, except that here they came and they paid to come also. Personally I would have preferred, and I am talking now as a member of that committee, I would have preferred mass gatherings of tens of thousands of people with SA artists. I would not have had a single foreign artist because we can fill stadiums with SA artists. But that's one person, maybe some of my colleagues would have agreed with me, others did not agree and they thought let's get these foreign artists.
POM. That leads me almost to an ancillary point, that every third rate American, I'm using that to cover maybe everybody, celebrity who comes to this country gets a photo opportunity with the President, whether it's Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford - you look at the list day after day and you say, my God, the President must spent half his time meeting with people and the only reason he's meeting with them is because they're famous and they're from abroad. Or not famous, they are celebrities but their inherent worth -
AK. Well let me put it this way, they've got the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and you've got the President's Club. The President's Club consists of people who have equalled the President's contribution, he contributes one third of his salary every year to the Children's Fund. The mistake was to expect Oppenheimer to also just contribute that sum R150,000 or R200,000 or whatever it is, then Oppenheimer and Rupert could have contributed millions. So that was the mistake of the Children's Fund, so that nobody in SA has given more than what the President has to be a member of the President's Club. But then you take Denzil Washington, this actor, American, Celebrity, he gave $1 million to the fund. Naomi Campbell has given large sums of money to the fund. Whatsisname, there's a billionaire, American, a Republican, forget his name now, he gave $1 million.
POM. Many Republicans are billionaires.
AK. He is a Republican, I forget his name, he's a brilliant man. He makes jet planes and all that. He has given $1 million so it's not as if the President just poses for pictures with the very rich. Stevie Wonder has been an old friend of the struggle. His music was banned in this country. But of course that night there happened to be other American artists lesser known who I had never heard of in my life. They happened to be there and the President couldn't say, Stevie Wonder you come, you don't come, when they pay. So that type of situation he lands himself into.
POM. We were talking about our ineptitude with machines and you told a very amusing story about what you got the night before you were released.
AK. I was talking of the culture shock having spent all these years in prison, divorced from technology, divorced from developments in terminology and I was just giving an example that although after some years we were allowed newspapers after 16 years and we were allowed television after about 22 years, the culture shock was lessened but it was not eliminated. I was giving an example of what had happened the night before we were released when at about 10.30 at night the prison authorities came to us in Johannesburg prison to say that they had just received a fax from Pretoria to say that we were going to be released the following morning, and instead of dancing with joy and singing the first question was, "What is a fax?" Now we have heard of this fax, we have seen it on television but we couldn't conceptualise what a fax is. What is this thing that you can put a paper in and the next minute it reaches America, photograph and all? We couldn't conceptualise all that. So it took us some time to really find out what a fax was. That applied to a lot of other things. I filled about ten pages as a hobby of what I came across as new in terminology, technology and so forth. Unfortunately when I came to government I stopped that hobby so I have still got somewhere those ten pages of notes which I hope to use one day.
POM. Are you going to write a book too?
AK. I am hoping to. There is a lot of pressure. In fact this article you saw of mine hopefully will be part of the book except that some parts have to be expanded, but hopefully that will be part of it.
POM. Well any of the interview material that we've done over the years is at your disposal to use.
AK. Thank you. Thanks.
POM. In one way it has been a refreshing of memory and on the other hand it has been dealing with contemporary issues.
AK. Well I tell you, what I am proposing to do if I ever get down to it is not a hard history but a more popular type of reading thing. The interviews I've given to you can be very useful in a more serious type of a book, which I am not discounting either. In fact I was offered by Michigan State University to come and do a doctorate which would be an academic work where this type of thing would be very, very useful. I have not completely rejected it but for the time being I thought let me try and do a more popular type of thing and then of course think of something more academic. Harvard has made a similar offer, but Harvard's was not formally done whereas Michigan State was formally.
POM. I had better get my university to make an offer to you. We don't want to be left out there in the cold.
AK. I'm going out there, by the way, in September. Yes, when the President goes to address the United Nations and then of course he's getting the Congressional Award, so I am hoping to be in the party with him and then of course when he returns I won't return at the same time, I will go to Michigan State because Michigan State is the university that is publishing my prison letters so I have to assist with the chap who's editing them. Then of course we have now received about three invitations from other universities while I'm at Michigan State to come and speak to them, so I am hoping to do that.
POM. I hope you will make time to come to our university again in Massachusetts.
POM. If we have advance notice we can organise something.
AK. The better thing of course is to, as the other universities have done, they have now more or less formally invited me so that weekend will go programmed according to the formal invitations we've got. It's not necessarily the whole university, sometimes it's just a department of a university.
POM. Well I'm extending an invitation to you right now on behalf of the John W McCormack Institute of Public Affairs which hosted you before if you can make the time to come down and spend a day with us.
AK. That would be very nice, yes.
POM. Just one last question, do you still believe in the existence of a third force that's out there to undermine and destroy the ANC and since it is impossible to go backwards, i.e. that whites can never assume power in this country again both for internal reasons and external reasons, what would be the purpose in them trying to continually, if it exists, undermine you? What's the game?
AK. You have got elements who still believe that they can regain power. When you had these arrests taking place after the theft of weapons, we have these pockets of people who refuse to accept transformation, who are still working by violent and non-violent means but mainly by violent means to try and overthrow the present order, so that they hope to come back as the rulers of the country. So you've got these elements. In the latest killings in Richmond, now you found people this morning, I was listening to the radio, where survivors are saying that they heard voices of people who were speaking English and Afrikaans and not with an African accent. Now if they are correct that also is an additional indication that there is what we call a third force which for one reason or another is trying to continue to bring about destabilisation.
POM. But what's the gain for them if they bring about destabilisation? They can't win.
AK. Well that's what we say but these chaps who have stolen this ammunition from Bloemfontein don't think so. They are preparing for some sort of uprising in their own minds but there are these elements.
POM. Just on that, the volkstaat, I talked to General Viljoen the other day and he still believes that eventually there will be a volkstaat some place in the Northern Cape or whatever and he said he submitted detailed proposals which he gave to me all in Afrikaans, so I've either got to learn Afrikaans very quickly or find a translator very quickly. He says the constitution provides for the right of self-determination, it's entrenched in the constitution. Is he living a pipe dream? Again you had the President saying, he says, "As for the Afrikaner Front it is imprisoned in its narrow pursuit of so-called Afrikaner self-determination." That doesn't sound like a man who is about to negotiate.
AK. Well I think he hasn't been careful in his choice of phrase there because he would distinguish between self-determination and a volkstaat, a geographical entity. You have to distinguish that. Now again it comes to what your definition of self-determination is. They can be accommodated, I think, if they want Afrikaans schools provided it's not racial. They should not be able to say we want an Afrikaans school for white Afrikaans speaking people. Those type of things can be accommodated. But an independent geographic volkstaat is out of the question.
POM. They would talk more of a semi-autonomous state, something almost like the devolution that is being proposed for Scotland.
AK. I think they are being unrealistic. They don't even have the support of the Afrikaners for a volkstaat. Take the example of this Orania. It's tiny and I don't think your urbanised Afrikaner is going to now go and live in the Northern Cape because he wants to go and live in a volkstaat and sacrifice everything he's got in the urban areas and the white population is predominantly urban. So I think it's an unrealistic thing, it's a good electioneering platform. I think in their heart of hearts they don't think that there is going to be a volkstaat, a geographical one, I don't think so, no matter what they say in public.
POM. Well he says 20 or 30 years. He's not looking at it as an immediate aim and I must say again that of the people that I've talked to in the opposition parties he was by far the most sympathetic with the ANC.
AK. I would say that. I have the highest regard for him and for his Freedom Front. As I have said earlier we differ fundamentally on policy but I have a very high regard for them as straightforward right people who passionately believe in what they say they believe in. One respects such people, but one has to also at the same time persuade them of what is realistic and what is not.
POM. Are you making any progress in making them - ?
AK. That's why I say that I think in their hearts of hearts many, if not most of them, don't think that there's going to be a volkstaat.
POM. They talk now more about cultural self-determination, i.e. schools, the language issue comes up again and again and again.
AK. I think that can be accommodated. I think the Minister of Constitutional Affairs has almost said as much a month or two ago. I can't see a principled, I'm expressing a personal opinion, I can't see a principled opposition to that, to language rights and religion, etc., customs. Again the bottom line is it cannot be racial. The majority, well somebody said this week, the majority of the Afrikaans speaking people in this country are not white Afrikaners.
POM. They're coloureds.
AK. Yes, that's what they said and I haven't checked whether that is true or not but even if it's not true the coloured population of this country 90% of them are Afrikaans speakers. So you can't have a volkstaat or an Afrikaans cultural institution which is going to be exclusive for white Afrikaners and Constand Viljoen himself has said in parliament that they are not going to be, they will conform to the constitution of this country.
POM. That they are not? They will?
AK. They will conform, yes.
POM. Yes he's very clear about that.
AK. So that he himself is not advocating a white Afrikaner function.
POM. But he's advocating still a piece of territory where Afrikaner speaking people whether white or coloured can go and live there and would have a degree of autonomy over their own affairs. That would be things like language, schools, it wouldn't be about defence, it wouldn't be about armies, it wouldn't even be about taxation. It would be like a form of federation where all the essential instruments of government would be under the control of the central government but they would have a certain degree of space.
AK. Well now you're talking of a constitution issue which has to be discussed. I don't know whether constitutionally, under the present constitution, whether that can be done, an autonomous or semi-autonomous geographical area. I can't now, because I have never been in any discussions within the ANC which has seriously been examining the feasibility of this, I have not personally been in. There must be other groupings within the ANC which have been discussing this but I don't know.
POM. My last question and it's one that has fascinated me for a long time when it was brought up first by Govan Mbeki, then I asked you about it, and I asked him what was his happiest, his best recollection of his experience of the years he spent on Robben Island and he said it was the day that you perfected a communications system that allowed people to communicate with each other. So when I was walking through the jail on Sunday I was taking note of the cells and what I was not even able to get from the guide was what time in the morning did you have to get up?
AK. I think it was half past five.
POM. Was that brown door locked?
AK. That was locked.
POM. That was locked.
AK. Oh yes, immediately we came back from work and washed and all that, had our food, both the grille and the wooden door.
POM. So you got up at 5.30, you were served what kind of breakfast?
AK. Then they would unlock us, we would go and clean out toilet buckets. As you know there are no flush toilets there, and wash and shower and so forth and then have breakfast, not in our cells. There's a dining hall. They were not rigid about it because people finished off washing and showering at different times.
POM. But you could talk to each other during that period?
AK. Oh yes. We were not allowed to talk to each other once we were locked up but once they opened the doors, oh yes we were allowed to talk and right through at work we were allowed to talk.
POM. And at breakfast?
AK. Oh yes, we could talk. But you see not everyone had breakfast at the same time. Some would prefer to have breakfast in the dining hall, some would prefer to have breakfast in their cells depending on when they finished showering and so forth and went to get dressed.
POM. Then you would go to the quarry.
AK. Then we would go to work.
POM. At seven?
AK. Sevenish, I'm not so definite about times any more.
POM. Would you walk there?
AK. Most of the time, yes. But what would happen is that when we walked, and that was most of the time, we would have been preceded by warders who would walk and if there were any other prisoners they would shove them into the bushes because we were not allowed to see anybody and nobody was allowed to see us so they had to hide in the trees there.
POM. That meant other political prisoners or common law?
AK. Political or common law, more political prisoners because we were completely isolated from our colleagues who were staying in the general cells.
POM. So then you would work at the quarry from?
AK. We would work for about eight hours a day. Again, I'm not sure of the exact times.
POM. But you had time to talk during that period?
AK. Oh yes we used to talk.
POM. So how hard were you pushed to work? There's this famous American movie called Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman, where police used gangs and I think still do in the American south, they put them out and make them do physical work.
AK. No, they tried to get us - at first when we were chopping stones they tried to impose quotas and you had to fill a bucket of gravel, but we never ever accepted that. Our attitude right from the start was that we would work as hard as we can. When we started working at the quarry they again tried to get us to work harder. Again our attitude was that you can do what you like, we will work at our pace. They then brought criminals to teach us how to work so we just looked at them and carried on working as much as we could. Eventually they gave up so we worked at our pace, but the advantage of working outside was we could talk, we could do our academic studies, because what we used to is gather around, play the English teacher for those of us who were studying English. We would work and we would talk, history or biology or whatever, we had two doctors there who taught biology and so forth. But that was a great advantage.
POM. So if you were working - ?
AK. We would work in groups.
POM. Who would say, OK, let's stop and have a class?
AK. Well sometimes you would work and the teacher would keep on talking or ask questions. We were also singing but when they discovered we were singing political songs they stopped us from singing so we just talked.
POM. So then you would come back to your cells at four o'clock in the afternoon.
AK. We would come back and shower and take our food in our cells because by that time the warders were in a hurry to go home so they wouldn't want us to eat in the dining hall because that would delay their going home. Invariably the evening, the afternoon meal, was at four o'clock, but on Sundays sometimes we had the evening meal at half past two, they would be in a hurry to go home so they would prefer us to take our food into our cells.
POM. Then after you took - let's say you came back to your cell with your meal, was your door then locked?
AK. Yes immediately you got into your cell with your food the door is locked, both doors.
POM. Both doors, so you couldn't see anyway outside?
AK. Well you had these windows, you had two windows, for instance, depending on which side, well in fact on both sides of the passage you had two windows. Where the President stayed for instance his one window would look out onto the courtyard and the other window into the passage but through the passage window he could see the person diagonally opposite him. The person diagonally opposite me was Walter Sisulu. But I had the advantage where I stayed on the opposite side of the President, not directly opposite him but on the opposite side, where I could get onto my chair and look out so that on a clear day I could see Bloubergstrand, I could see motor cars moving and most important of all I could see animals, I could see children, the warders' children, the warders and their families walking to the harbour. We could see them, although from a distance. So I used to spend hours and hours just looking out and I still wonder why the President went there as a choice, why he and others just preferred to remain on that side and all they could see is the garden and the courtyard. We had a garden there and that's all they could see.
POM. Did you get access to the garden?
AK. It was our garden but after lock-up we couldn't get access to it although warders used to come and steal things from there. Every now and then we would hear one of our prisoners shouting at a warder, "Leave that cucumber alone", or something.
POM. I come back to my final question which is what kind of communication system did you develop that allowed for - ?
AK. We had various methods. It will take a whole chapter if I ever get down to a book and credit should not go to me as an individual. I was heading that committee but it was a joint effort. Somebody would come out with a bright idea and we would develop that if it's feasible. But we used all kinds of things. We used a matchbox where we had a concealed bottom and then you would have a thin strip of very thin paper on which the message would be concealed but that depended on how big the message should be. Then at the quarry or elsewhere, especially the quarry, we just dropped that matchbox and the people from the main section who delivered our food would know that there is a matchbox lying somewhere so they would pick it up. That was one method. We also had false bottoms for packets of tobacco. We used invisible writing, we used milk, but we found that once the milk is diluted it doesn't work. If you use milk for invisible writing it gets on to the other side and all they do is put an electric iron over it and it all becomes visible. Then there was a substance called Usol(?) which we used to get from the hospital ostensibly for some health reason and that was a very effective thing for invisible writing. So we used many, many methods. As I say, that could form a whole chapter in a book.
POM. Can I come back to you before I leave, and as your book will be out before my book -
AK. My book will never be out!
POM. Just for you to talk about -
AK. I've been saying for the last years and years -
POM. I would just like to go through it, particularly because of the means that political prisoners in Northern Ireland used to communicate with each other which became enormously sophisticated where they could write a message, they could write a 10-page note on the side of a stamp and they would have messages translated when they had visitors, just in greeting somebody, just giving a kiss to a wife or a relative they would just have it under their tongue and pass it into the other person's mouth.
AK. That's one of the reasons why they didn't allow us contact visits. We were not allowed contact visits until 1986, that's 22 years, although we were entitled to it. Once you became an A group prisoner you were entitled to contact visits but they never allowed us, the politicals were always deprived of that until about 1986 when they allowed that. This is precisely the type of thing they feared, that in the process of kissing your visitor you were going to pass on something, one of the things they feared. One can learn a lot from the Irish. Incidentally, about two months ago I was asked to receive a group of Irish who were coming to this country and we met them here, about ten of them, men and women, and I was quite amazed when they told me one of them had served 15 years and the other had served ten years. I immediately took it for granted that they were ex-IRA but they weren't. I subsequently learnt that they were not IRA people, but their whole mission in seeing me was to learn about prison experiences. They were a group who were in favour of the new developments that took place. They have written a very nice letter to me since then. But as I say, I felt embarrassed to ask them, now who are you? Are you IRA or what are you? Subsequently I made enquiries and they were not IRA, but I didn't know that there were people who served 15 years there.
AK. I would have understood IRA people serving 15 years but I didn't know that there were Loyalists or whatever you call them, conservative.
POM. They were the Protestant opposites of the IRA and many of them - in fact they have been one of the agents of change over recent years for released prisoners who had said this is all crazy, we should be living together, not apart. We're all working class people, we all come from the same backgrounds.
AK. That was the trend of the whole discussion.
POM. If I can come back to you, as I always do, before I leave and if we could have one discussion - if you think about it a bit on how you communicated.
AK. I have no problem provided we can fit it in. When are you leaving?
POM. I won't be leaving, I hope, until the end of September.
AK. Oh I see, then we should be able to fit it in.
POM. Just on your communication systems because I'm fascinated by the way it was developed.
AK. Until about a year ago we wouldn't have talked about it because my one attitude was I have to consult the people in the various sections who were in charge of communication, but then I found that a number of colleagues, even those who served on this communications committee had started talking about it. I thought well now I'm not going to wait for formalities so I have also been talking about it.
POM. I always loved when I talked to Govan Mbeki about the same issue, I may have told you this story, and I said how did the system work? And he looked at me with his big eyes and said, "I don't think I can tell you that, you never know when you have go back into the bush again."
AK. Well my one reluctance is that talking about it is going to teach the criminals today.
AK. Some of the methods were so successful they were never, ever caught.
POM. I would be fascinated and as I said by the time I'm published it will probably be old history anyway.
AK. But then we can learn a lot from the criminals too.
POM. That's right. Thank you ever so much for your time.
AK. Now this Independent supplement, is there any way one can get hold of that one?
POM. Yes, I'll send you on a copy.
AK. Can you?
POM. Oh yes, no problem.
AK. I just learnt from a friend in America that while he was in England - I didn't know that some of it was published.
PAT. They should have paid you for it.
AK. That's a good point, they owe me money.
POM. Children's Fund.
PAT. Join the President's Club, open a prisoners fund.
POM. I am still having trouble with the President's office.
AK. Well I just don't know, I can't even talk about it because everyone has agreed on principle, the whole lot, Professor Gerwel downwards and he gets shocked each time I raise it with him and says, "Haven't they met yet?" It doesn't materialise for some reason.
POM. Part of the problem is that, and this is like a negotiated problem, is that they want me to submit all my questions in writing beforehand which means that responses would be prepared by anonymous civil servants or people in his office or whoever.
AK. Who has said this?
POM. This has just come from his office.
AK. They don't do that to anybody as I recall.
POM. The appointment's secretary, the personal secretary.
POM. This is the big sticking point. I say no, I would prefer not to have an interview if it's done under those conditions.
AK. Have they given this to you in writing?
POM. No there's nothing in writing.
AK. I'm surprised. As far as I know nobody has been asked - naturally they are asked what is it you want to see him about but not ask for detailed questions.
POM. Well they want question 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
AK. They've obviously misunderstood the whole thing because the media people don't - and the media people are the ones who are in charge of these things. I have never heard of them asking.
POM. Who should I go back to? I talked to Priscilla and reminded her that I'm here.
AK. Well ask Priscilla and raise this thing with her.
POM. But Priscilla has said to me the good news is that you're on the official list. The bad news is that there are so many people on the official list for interviews with the President it could take three or four years before he gets to you.
AK. No, but if you remind Priscilla that Professor Gerwel has been insisting on this and he is one of the persons you've been seeing, he's been insisting on this interview and in principle, when I made enquiries previously everyone has agreed to it. I don't know where the blockage is.
POM. But you understand my position is that to submit questions beforehand where - if I came in here with a list of questions that you had read beforehand and had one of your staff prepare we wouldn't be having a conversation, you would be reading a reply prepared by somebody else rather than saying exactly what's on your mind. So I will be seeing Professor Gerwel next week in fact.
AK. Oh you have an appointment with him?
POM. He's given me two hours this time because we missed a year.
AK. Oh well then he is the man you want to talk to and arrange this with him, this thing that has been demanded of you because in the end he's the man who is responsible for all the appointments.