This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
23 Aug 1990: Jones, Colin
POM I'm talking with, for the record, Colin Jones on the 23rd of August. Reverend, I would like first to take your mind back to the 2nd of February and the day of Mr. de Klerk's speech to Parliament. Did what he had to say come as a surprise to you? And what do you think motivated him to move so broadly and sweepingly at the same time?
CJ I think one, speaking for myself, I have mixed emotions about the 2nd of February speech. One was of excitement, obviously. I think the scale of the concessions made on that day surprised me. There were some of us who had heard it hinted that Mandela's release would be made public on that day, and that the ANC might well be unbanned. The fact that the South African Communist Party was included in that did surprise me because I don't think that there was any hint before that of the kind of lessening of the antagonism and the, what we call the communist scare here. There hadn't been a great many indications of that happening. So, yes, the scale of the concessions surprised me. However, the fact that Mr. de Klerk made a speech of that nature didn't really surprise me because I don't think he had much by way of an option. Things at that time, as now, had reached a new heights of criticalness. The pressures which had been exerted by the Mass Democratic Movement/UDF in the two years before that, prior to, or a year and a half prior to the 2nd of February, were enormous and were mounting steadily. And I don't think that Mr. de Klerk, being who he is, had any option other than to acknowledge realistically the situation.
POM When you say "being who he is"?
CJ Well, I think that basically Mr. de Klerk is a realist. And his politics is real politic. It is let's do with the reality of what is going on here. His predecessors, I think, were not able to acknowledge the reality. That was their greatest problem. And apartheid and its architects, I think, have by and large been unable to recognise reality, to face it. To recognise, for instance, that there was no way that they would forever be able to hold down the lid of oppression and repression. They just didn't have the ability to do that.
POM What about de Klerk's position on majority rule? Do you think he now accepts majority rule?
CJ I don't know, quite honestly. I think that the Nationalist Party obviously have hidden agendas. They have been, I believe, a lot more adept at keeping their agendas close to their chests than the ANC has, for instance. I think the ANC has rather surprisingly been willing to reveal its hand. And that's a surprise to me, maybe more than the way in which the Nationalist Party has reacted.
POM How do you see the ANC's revealed hand?
CJ Well, I think that it is very clear that the ANC is prepared to go a long way down the road in allaying white fears, for instance. Those need to be allayed, but I sometimes wonder at what cost in terms of its own credibility in the black community. It seems to me that the ANC has been very quick in making concessions on its part. Which may be, some would consider to be, "bending over backwards", to coin a phrase. And it is very clear, I think, that Mr. Mandela, like Mr. de Klerk, is facing, are both facing, realities. But Mr. de Klerk is facing reality that black aspiration is not going to be held down indefinitely. Mr. Mandela is facing the fact that white fear has to be allayed in some way or other.
POM Do you see part of that allaying of white fears as a form of government which, while it will have universal franchise and perhaps a government which, say, the ANC, for example, would be the dominant party, there would be form of power sharing between the Nationalist Party, perhaps, and the dominant black party?
CJ Yes, I'm not a politician, I have to say that and so I speculate very much as a lay person here, but I think that it seems, if we seem to be moving in some direction in which one way or another there is an attempt, and I don't want to use the word "group rights" because it's something which I have a great difficulty with, but I think there is an attempt to try and deal with the problem that whites have in terms of their fears about the future and about the past. Whether that tends to be done structurally in terms of political arrangement, or whether it's going to be done through, one might say "charismatically" in the sense that you are going to have figures like Mr. Mandela and maybe Mr. Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki, who seem to be able to get, to cut through a great deal of that phobia without necessarily having to legislate for it. But you can't always depend on personalities for that. I think one of the things that we are going to have to grapple with in this country is how we actually deal with that realistically.
POM How would you characterise white fears? How would you, or can one, break them down into fears that have a basis in reality and fears that are for the most part imaginary?
CJ I think my experience of white fear is that it's a fear at different levels about different things. Some of the more basic fears that whites have, have to do with what could be euphemistically called the standard of living in western-style culture and civilisation. I think that, other than the Afrikaner and the right wing Afrikaners who seem to have a real fear about the African thought about the people and a very deeply ingrained sense of preservation of what is very narrow and is peculiar to a particular group of people. I think most white people in this country don't have the same kind of concerns about culture and language and that kind of thing. It seems to be the narrow thing around which white right wing Afrikaners certainly want to be rallying. But it seems to me that most, on the other hand, that most white South Africans have a fear about their privilege and I think they find it extremely hard to face a future in which they have to make concessions and sacrifices. Apartheid has spoiled all white people in this country. All white people have in one way or another benefited, in the privilege sense, from apartheid. Now that goes for white liberals as well. People who hold in their minds and in their hearts even liberal concepts of justice and peace and equality, but who, by virtue of the fact of being white in South Africa, have been blessed with the fruits of apartheid, and they are there for the picking for white South Africans. And all white South Africans, I think, are concerned about lifestyle, to put it crudely. So that is one level of fear.
There is also the fear, I think, of losing control and power because one of the other things which obviously comes with the privileged position in this country is the privilege of power which has become a privilege, not a right. Power sharing isn't a right here. And white people have been schooled, they're indoctrinated with the privilege to be the ones who determine policy and strategy and vision. And white people, I think, by and large, even good, nice white people, find it very hard to step out of the role of being the person who determines things for black people. They don't like letting go. Like many well-to-do people across the board, I think, we love to be able to help people. And we do so in a paternalistic way, generally. But white people in this country, I think, find it very difficult to relate in a non-paternalistic, hand-out fashion. And we need a whole education there. And they fear having to relate as equals. They fear having to, as it were, also acknowledge their need. And to recognise that in being forced, as it were, in this society by the way in which the society was designed, to be always those with the answers, with the goods, material goods, and suddenly they find themselves in a place where they don't have the answers, where they don't have the material goods, they might even have to give up what they have to a large degree. And they find themselves, at best, in a place of equality which they are not used to being in. And at worst, in a place of need, where they're actually apt to be receiving, and that's not part of their life experience to be in that position. So, they fear that - they find this very difficult to be at the receiving end. And that's a real fear, as well.
Now, the fear about black people being in power is made up of a real problem, I believe, and of an imagined problem. They fear anarchy. They fear being oppressed. They fear to be the victims once again. And the Afrikaner, particularly, fears to be a victim because the Afrikaner's history in this country is not just one of oppressor. People forget that. Our fellow Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans have been a people who have known repression themselves. They have been interned in concentration camps, they've been banned, they've been hounded, and they know that experience, and they fear it again and that experience has been largely under the British here. And they fear revenge on the part of black people. Now, I think that is both a real fear and an imagined fear because I think there are a great many black South Africans who do not have the spirit of revenge. Our history of black people is a remarkable one, of a lack of vindictiveness, I think. The fact that they have not had a massive onslaught against white people in our history is in itself an indication of that. But I do think also, however, that the present situation of violence in our black townships does give cause for concern.
POM To take you up on one point. Why do you think that the Afrikaner, who himself or herself was the victim of oppression, could turn around and be, in turn, the oppressor to another people?
CJ I think that one has to look at the history of oppression under the British. It's almost in a sense a very human thing. And one maybe can't argue it politically or sociologically. I think that it, one way in which I can understand it is theologically. And one so often sees accounts in the history of people of God, how those who have been oppressed become oppressors. And I think that happens when you allow for certain things, dynamics, which initially are there to help you out of oppression, become a law unto themselves. For instance, you look at the way in which religion has played a role in being a factor which has encouraged Afrikaners to be oppressors in this country. The Dutch Reformed Church provided theological justification for apartheid. But that wasn't its original role vis-à-vis the Afrikaner people. It provided them first with the spiritual strength and with an identity as a people being oppressed, and provided them initially with the courage to resist. But having provided them with all that, I think the human element of wanting to entrench power, once you've got some power, to hold on to it, is a very human thing. And this is why power sharing is so important, that that process needs to be built into our liberation. Because unless it is brought into and justice is brought into it, and we talk about power sharing as an expression of justice, unless that is brought in you can't just have peace. You can't just have a change of the state of oppression without voting in the issues of justice. Because if those are not present, then we've just reversed roles.
And I think this is where the questions of redistribution of wealth become very, very important. Because we don't want to be creating a new set of oppressors, if possible. The Afrikaners, through their experience of liberation, began to create a system which protected their right and benefited the Afrikaner only. That was their way out. And so we see the Broederbond preserving Afrikaner culture, for instance. We see that same organisation ensuring Afrikaners in positions of power in the economy, in the universities, and in local government. Now, I would hope and pray that we don't make the same mistakes. That we don't, in order to right the wrong, overdress the problem in order to redress it.
POM For a moment, let's turn to the question of violence. The violence in Natal has been going on for four years but in the last couple of weeks the violence seems to have taken a new turn and it's spread into the Transvaal and the ugly phrase of "ethnic violence" has raised its head. What is your interpretation of the violence and does it in fact make more valid some of the fears that whites have?
CJ I think it does, certainly. Obviously, it does make people a lot more nervous, but across the board, I don't think just white fears. All South Africans are concerned about the violence and what it holds out for our ability to listen to each other. I think what we have created here, and I'm not going to blame everything on apartheid, obviously, but I think what we have created is a party which is intrinsically intolerant of opposing viewpoints because they haven't had these jobs or the freedom to have an opposing viewpoint. People don't know how to argue and to live with each other's viewpoints. I find that, even with white South Africans, within the church. People really find it very difficult to be democratic because we've not had much public experience of democracy in this country. And I think that's part of the problem here.
The other is, and this might sound a little esoteric, but I think that there's a sense in which some of the violence is an expression of a catharsis, of a kind of bloodletting. And it is an expression of the pent-up anger which has maybe unrealistically been kept under control for, we're not talking since 1948, we're talking for 300 years or more. Our young people, in particular, have been extremely frustrated with the fact that older people have just allowed the situation to be. So there is a bit of that as well but I don't think that's a major factor in this.
I think the major factors are the disturbing ones. Mainly, that some of it really does seem to be orchestrated. A lot of the violence has to do with the kind of shifting around, the positioning for power within the black community. Much by way of accusation has been levelled at Chief Gatsha Buthelezi and Inkatha. He has a great deal to lose in the present dispensation. And there are those who have been questioning his power base and the kind of figures that he has been giving. Chief Buthelezi, I think, had to, in order to ensure a negotiating role and a kind of prominence here and his political future, had to find a way in which to make a claim. And so it would seem from what one hears that the way in which that is taking place is through territorial positioning, through the power play of violence as well. I think that the ANC has elements within it and maybe, to be more charitable to Chief Buthelezi, maybe there are uncontrolled elements within Inkatha as well. Some people have argued that this is Inkatha's policy. I don't know, I can't speak with any kind of definite proof of that. But what I do suspect very strongly as an experience is that there are elements within ANC, PAC, and Inkatha which are no longer controllable by the leadership and that those elements are unwanted.
To some extent what we see is anarchy and the way in which those people are dealt with and isolated. I think we have to find a way in which we make violence, as it were, unfashionable. And that the people engaging in this be isolated, and to be seen to be undermining not just each other but the whole future of our country. I think, too, that there is, some of it is a disenchantment with the way in which negotiations up to this point have proceeded. That there are young people who feel that too much has been negotiated away already too soon. And they feel powerless and they are angry. And I think that they give expression to that anger and that's their violence. There is also the violence that we saw in Port Elizabeth which I think was an example of another kind of violence amongst the so-called coloured people in Port Elizabeth against what they saw to be - plus, it was directed very personally at Mr. Hendrickse, the leader of the House of Representatives. That was a reaction against what people thought to be a puppet government.
PK There's something that's consistent about this violence, and you've had much more exposure to it, which is that there's one player that always remains the same in it whether it's the Coloured in Port Elizabeth, what's going on in the townships around Johannesburg now, or in Natal, this is what protagonists of the ANC will say, the ANC/UDF/COSATU coalition, the alliance, is always the same across the board. How do you read that? All of a sudden, it just breaks out in reaction to all these other players.
CJ I'm not quite sure, actually. I think that one of the things it's saying is that there's obviously a broad support for the ANC/UDF/COSATU alliance across the country. And certainly, even in Natal, where Chief Buthelezi would have had people believe as of quite recently that he had the sort of sole representation - and a lot of people in America who believe that when Chief Buthelezi, on his many visits there and to Western Europe, would say that he represents six millions Zulus, it's very clear that he does not. And the scale of the violence in Natal must show that there is considerable resistance to his claims.
I think we need to be careful, though, that by talking about the ANC/UDF/COSATU alliance, that we are suggesting that all the people who support that alliance or are involved in that alliance are necessarily involved in violence. I don't know how many people are actually involved who would claim to be definite supporters of that. It seems also to me that much of the violence seems to have now escalated into a kind of reprisal-type violence where the issue's no longer what the violence initially was about. One doesn't quite get a sense of what starts it. What sustains it is one thing, but what initially starts it is another. There has been some suggestion that the South African police has been, or elements again within the South African police, just as elements within the ANC, and elements within Inkatha, have been instrumental in creating a violent scenario, for whatever purposes, of destabilisation, arousing white fear, dividing blacks. Because I think the thing that one needs to ask is, who benefits most out of this situation? I think there are some very interesting beneficiaries here.
Certainly it seems to me that the right wing Afrikaner movement seems to be getting some benefit out of here because they can say, 'Ah, but this is exactly what we were saying would happen!' So, that raises a question, knowing, I suppose, people work in terms of their igniting some of the violence here. People like Chief Buthelezi must obviously get some - in winning a little, he loses a little as well. I mean, his whole role as a moderate black is being questioned more and more and I think that's a very good thing because I think that it's a role which has not been totally true in the past. But he also seems to come out as somebody who has something to benefit in terms of his political future if he can make himself a strong enough power base in all of this or cause enough trouble. He has to be taken into account as a factor.
POM Do you think that Mr. Mandela should meet with him?
CJ I am of the opinion that should such a meeting take place now, at this time, and that meeting failed, and I think there is every reason to believe that it will fail because I don't know whether there is a commitment, enough of a commitment, to ending the violence. As a church person, I have had some very disturbing reports about how Chief Buthelezi operates within dialoguing, negotiating situations. Our own Bishops during our last Provincial Synod in 1989 met with him and Bishop ... [Natel(?)] in Natal and came back extremely disillusioned. He is a very moderate man. He is not a radical as Bishop ... [Natel(?)] at all. But he went to meet with Chief Buthelezi with some other Bishops of our church to encourage some dialogue about peace in the region. They sat down and talked to the Chief, he listened to them, and then produced a prepared statement which made no responses to the fresh information whatsoever. And I have a feeling that if Chief Buthelezi adopts that kind of approach, that he has already made up his mind as to what he wants and what is going to happen, and there won't be real negotiation. And if those fail, I think it will be like, say, what we saw as a curtain raiser and that's a free-for-all.
POM Just quickly, one last one. If you look at the obstacles that you see facing, say, Mr. Mandela in guiding his community through this process to a fruitful conclusion, and Mr. de Klerk guiding his community in the same way, what are the major obstacles that you see for each? What are the stumbling blocks that lie in their paths?
CJ I think one of the major problems which confront both those two leaders is how many people they can bring along with them. And how many are they going to lose to the more radical elements on both sides. Mr. de Klerk has a problem that, in the face of the violence currently taking place, those people who continue to support the Nationalist Party might begin to believe more and more that the Conservatives are right. And he therefore has a problem in allaying their fears and bringing them over, keeping them with him.
Mr. Mandela has a growing problem of credibility amongst the young. Radicals who feel that he is going too fast, too soon and that he is really giving away all his negotiating chips even before real negotiations begin to take place. And there have been major concessions which he has made. I think those are some of the obstacles there.
I think, on a more positive note, that what I find interesting, and I wish I knew more about this, but what we have really happening currently is Nationalists talking to Nationalists in South Africa. We have the African Nationalist Party and the Nationalist Party of South Africa, the Nationalist Congress, rather, and the Nationalist Party, talking about what I think is pretty common ground. And this is maybe why we see those two particular groups being able to hear each other. As far as Inkatha and PAC on the other side are concerned, they don't have the same kind of political philosophy. Neither does the Conservative Party. They are not thinking of nation but in terms of volk, the noble volk mentality. The Pan Africanists are thinking more than nation. And Inkatha, again, on the other hand, is really thinking Zulu, just like the Conservatives are. And I think that it is a very interesting phenomena that the two major protagonists in this debate should be nationalists, both of nationalist political persuasions. I think that the obstacles, further obstacles are going to be the constant attempts on the part of people on the fringes there to undermine, derail, destabilise the process.
POM Do you think that real negotiations can take place if the violence continues, even at a reduced but fairly high level?
CJ I think it must affect the nature of the negotiations all along the way. I don't see how they can ignore it.
POM What's your own view? Say, this time next year, when we are speaking again, would we expect things to be better, different from where they are today?
CJ I think that unless there are some real concessions, maybe what Mr. Mandela needs to do is to learn to bend towards PAC as much as he's learned to bend towards the Nationalist Party. I think that maybe, also, there is going to have to be some bending toward Chief Buthelezi unless the Nationalist Party also isolates Chief Buthelezi. But it is in their favour to have Chief Buthelezi also being, as it were, a problem now. I would hope that in a year's time, we would have sorted out some of the power play taking place a bit more and that we are to take seriously that there are other protagonists who need to be drawn into the negotiations.
POM OK. Thank you very much.