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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
07 Aug 1991: Chalmers, Judy
POM Just before I said I wanted to interview you again, Judy, you said 'To hear the same thing?' which begs a lead-off question of what change have you observed in the last year that is meaningful change as distinct from just the symbols of change?
JC Well I think we're seeing meaningful change in some situations almost in spite of what people's real wants are. We're seeing some meaningful change with the bureaucrats because on a daily basis we deal with bureaucrats and we are seeing much more of a placatory attitude from them, we're not getting the hard line attitudes that we used to get when you phone up the Dept. of Home Affairs, when you phone up the Cape Provincial Administration who are the people who handle pension problems, even with some of the Magistrates in the little rural areas. Whereas before they would be the all-powerful person in the area who could say yea or nay and people's lives would be affected in a very sort of radical way by whatever their rulings were. We're getting now more of an attitude of, OK well.
For instance this morning I phoned up about the problem of an exile who has come back from Angola. He's been out of the country for 10 years. He has no birth certificate. He has no way of getting an identity document in South Africa. So I phoned up Mr Meyer at the Dept. of Home Affairs and he said 'Sure, never mind. Where was his wife born? Oh in Angola. She must now get permanent citizenship', and he was just very, very helpful. OK, the exiles are a special case but we are hearing from bureaucrats much more of a feeling of things are changing and they're jolly well just going to have to be part of that change.
We had a very interesting time yesterday afternoon. This is also part of something very positive that's happening. The black townships have for years been really at the mercy of their black local authority and now a decision has been taken that the Port Elizabeth Municipality is going to take over the whole electrification of the townships here and that means that it's an enormous job for them. So we were phoned yesterday morning and told by the ANC the dealings are between the ANC and the Port Elizabeth Municipality. They have worked out a way of the procedure for electrifying the black townships. So they phoned us, the ANC did, and said 'Please would you be present at a meeting this afternoon. We are meeting with the Port Elizabeth Municipal Electrification Engineers and we are going to be talking about procedures.' And their main fear is that their white employees are too scared to go into the townships. They won't go. They think they're going to lose their lives, they're going to lose their equipment and they're going to lose their vehicles and they are just saying, we won't go. So they had a meeting yesterday afternoon with about 40 of them to work through a number of issues and they said, 'Please can't Black Sash be present at the meeting because we want to show them that you have been working in the black areas for years and years and you're still alive and you're still here.' And we were really very heartened by the fact that those engineers and employees of the Port Elizabeth Municipal Department were just so very comfortable in that situation. It was as though for years they've wanted to work in a certain way and never been given the path to follow. And now they're all sort of jostling one another aside to show goodwill, to show that they are prepared to co-operate with the political bodies such as the ANC, and just whatever the obstacles and problems are to try to push past them or climb over them, shoulder them aside and just get on with the job.
POM So it wasn't the engineers who were afraid, it was the people who would be carrying out the actual work?
JC Yes, carrying out the actual work.
POM The engineers would draw up the plans and then send the workers in.
JC Well I think they've realised that.
POM You were saying?
JC I was saying I think there has been a change of attitude as far as the bureaucrats of South Africa are concerned and that's always been a huge stumbling block because the instruction might come from the top that a law has changed or a different policy is to be implemented, but if the chap down the bottom who fills in the forms and hands them out hasn't changed in his gut and heart you're not going to find that spin-off effect getting through to the people who are the people in need and the people who are suffering as a result of the years of legislated repression against them.
POM But this arrangement between the townships, or the ANC and the Port Elizabeth Municipal Authority, it sounds like a real breakthrough in terms of its implications.
JC Well Roy would tell you more if you are interested about the One City Initiative.
POM Yes, I was just going to ask you about that. That's still on then?
JC That is still. It came unstuck really, you know he's better equipped to tell you than I am because he's Chairman of the Democratic Party here and they've been a factor in that. It came a bit unstuck because the local authority legislation was such, the new legislation is such that it seems clear that the black local authorities are still a part of government thinking. So the ANC pulled out of the talks but they still seem to have gone on in an unofficial basis and I think they will come on track again in the near future. But he's better able to tell you about that. But this is just one of the manifestations of those talks and of the fact that the black local authority is being more and more regarded as a dead, hopeless idea altogether. I mean throughout the Eastern Cape many, many of the little towns, the little black townships have pressurised their black councillors to resign and that has happened. There are still some operating but the problem is really that the black local authorities resign and then you're left with a sort of vacuum and nobody really to fill that so white administrators are being installed to run the township until such time as a Joint Municipal Authority is elected and starts picking up the reins of local management.
POM There's no local reaction against whites coming in to administer?
JC No. People seem to see it as a sort of bridging process. It's the black local councillors who are really loathed because they are regarded as sell-outs. And they very often are people who are alienated from the community and once they become marginalised like that and separated from the goodwill of the community they almost always take on a repressive colour and use vigilantes and all sorts of weapons against the people of the townships and, oh, it's a real recipe for violence and it has erupted in a small way in many places. Yes.
POM I was going to ask you about that. This is the anniversary of the violence that began in Port Elizabeth which was the precursor to, I think, the violence that subsequently broke out on the Reef.
JC Yes, I don't think they were really connected.
POM No, not connected. But you had the violence here first and they had it after. What about the situation with regard to violence here in the last year?
JC Apart from that awful five days which happened in August last year which was amazing because there never has been violence in our northern areas of any magnitude at all and it was just - all hell broke loose. There hasn't really been, in fact there has been no violence in the area except for the odd taxi conflict which has been very, very quickly resolved and so we're very fortunate in the Eastern Cape in that there just hasn't been any violence happening here. It's a far more homogenous society and there's no Inkatha, there's no, if the destabilisation is being engineered there's very little in the way of weapons that anyone can use here to take it forward. It will be interesting to see whether that continues.
We had an interesting situation in our office last week. We do training courses for rural people and others who want to open their own advice offices and we had a man come in from the northern areas, which is the so-called Coloured area, interested in sending people on a training course and we said, where are you from? He mentioned the Civic Association that he was from. So we said well, how, it was in the northern areas, where does that fit in with the Northern Areas Co-ordinating Committee which is the sort of umbrella body, the sort of MDM of the northern areas. He said, 'No no, we've got nothing to do with them, we're aligned to the Nationalist Party, I'm a member of the Nationalist Party.' This is a Coloured gentleman and we said, 'Why? How has this come about?' And he said, 'Oh well I'm a Christian and I don't like the relationship between the Northern Areas Co-ordinating Committee and the ANC because of the ANC's connection with the South African Communist Party. There are many of us in the northern areas who are going to vote Nationalist Party.' When we investigated it further, it was clearly something, a split that had occurred between groups of people after the violence last year and the NACC people regard this group as opportunistic, because he made no bones about it. He said, 'Look the Nationalist government are the people with the money. We want upgrade for our people, they're living in terrible conditions and those are the people who can help us.'
But there has been a drive in the northern areas for Nationalist Party members and it's a very definite factor. I don't think it's going to be a walkover for the ANC in the Coloured areas. You may have picked that up already? In Port Elizabeth, historically, the northern areas have been very quiet, very conservative, Labour Party, Allan Hendrickse's stamping ground, and quite a lot of those people who now feel that the Labour Party is no longer relevant are likely to see the Nationalist Party as more likely to be of use to them than the ANC.
POM As you and your friends and colleagues have viewed the violence in the Transvaal during the past year, to what extent, if any, did you see the violence as ethnic? As between Xhosa and Zulu?
JC Well certainly it does. Look, this government has rules on the premise of separating people. It has encouraged division, it has encouraged ethnicity. I think it's been terribly successful. I think the ANC faces a huge problem when it talks of South Africa for all South Africans because people have been divided for so long and people's roots are important to them and I think it certainly is a factor. I think the Inkatha/Xhosa viewpoints cannot be disregarded.
POM I ask this for a number of reasons. One is that I have found that if I talk, in particular to white academics, political scientists or sociologists or whatever, they will say there is an ethnic factor, and my question was 'Is it talked about in academic circles?' And the answer is no that it's not because if you were to start saying, well I think there are real ethnic differences here you would be seen as an apologist for the government. You would be saying in effect that the government was right about the problem but wrong in the way it went about it. Therefore rather than talk about it people simply, particularly progressives and liberals, just don't talk about it much.
JC Yes I think that people hope it will go away. But of course it won't. But I think people have to, well just my own point of view is that people have to get along. I think one hopes that the ethnic differences, I think in poverty stricken situations and the whole business of contract workers has of course also added to the situation of the hostel dwellers, etc. Were there tribal differences in the Eastern Cape it might be that people find themselves clinging to their Xhosaism or their Zuluism, but it's also said Xhosas and Zulus come from Nguni. I mean they come from the same ethnic basis. They are not really so different, not nearly as different as Tswanas or Sothos even really. But Buthelezi has fostered the Zulu warrior image so much and given to the world and to white South Africans, and always appearing in his tribal dress, he has fostered that. But it can't be, it's unrealistic to discount it altogether. I mean the Zulus are a reality and I think the violence that has happened, but it's happened also because people were put into circumstances where their ethnic difference was very much made visible by putting them in hostel situations or whatever and the state has fostered it at every single opportunity that has been made available to it.
POM Over the year Mandela and the ANC have insisted that the state had a hand in orchestrating the violence and Mandela has accused the government of having a double agenda of the olive branch on the one hand and on the other hand an attempt to undermine the ANC in the townships. Do you think a sufficient amount of evidence has now emerged to say that those allegations are substantially justified?
JC Without any doubt I do. I think there is, certainly we hear from our Sash members in Natal who run a monitoring group, there is absolute categorical evidence of police involvement in the clashes that have been happening. I think exactly the same thing has happened in the PWV area. I think if you need access to that documentation it's all there. It's no longer in any way just a possibility, it's a fact. That documentation does exist and it is there.
POM Where then does de Klerk stand? I mean for a full year he has denied any such involvement by the security forces. This documentation must have been presented to him by the ANC and others. Either he has not considered it sufficient or he has ignored it and even in the wake of Inkathagate evidently he is still saying, 'I must have enough evidence to convince me and I have not had that yet' Where do you think he stands in all of this?
JC I think he's a very sophisticated, a highly professional politician. I think he has a vision for South Africa that is very, very different to his predecessors. But I think he has a double agenda. What we are seeing is that time and again the social aspects, the welfare aspects of, as I mentioned with the bureaucrats, of the move away from the past and away from apartheid are being fostered and encouraged and given high profile in the news and the media. But I just find it very difficult to believe that the national security management system has really just been abolished and faded away. I think it may well be that it is still there but with a very different way of proceeding that is far less brutal, less obvious, less obvious to the outside world and to South Africans in general but I think it's still there and I think, to me de Klerk is prepared to share power but maintain control and maintain control over the mechanisms of change as well. A funny thing happened, I don't know if it's really repeatable, but Tiaan van der Merwe who was the Democratic Party Member of Parliament and was killed about a month ago in a car accident, spent some time with a friend of mine at Christmas and she said to him, 'Do you think de Klerk really had a Road to Damascus experience that made him do and say what he's doing today. And he was an Afrikaner, Tiaan?', and he said, 'All I can say is that I'm afraid and I think he must be a very cynical man.' He really did not have a great deal of really in-depth feeling of trust in that what he was doing was absolutely trustworthy.
POM A quote from his brother's book which I thought was extraordinary ...
JC From Wimpie's book?
POM Yes. This is a quote from his brother and I thought it an astonishing, a revealing quote. He said "The silver thread throughout my career was my advocacy of National Party policy in all its various formulations. I refrained from adjusting that policy to my own thinking or convictions. I analysed it as I found it to the letter." This doesn't sound like somebody who set out, who had a moral conversion.
JC Look, de Klerk had to change and he has the strength of character to implement that change and he's taken his 'verlig' thinkers along with him.
POM But the sheen that was on him a year ago is now, would you say, substantially eroded?
JC Well I think people felt that his performance last week was - you know the white thinking that you hear now is, governments do that sort of thing, or the really bad thing was to put so much of it in the press, or I hope they catch that policeman who stole all that documentation. I think white South Africans are changing. They are accepting that their lives are going to change and that maybe, they're hoping that the status, that it won't really affect them and that their kids are going to be able to have a quality of life that may be not as good as they've had but it's still going to be OK. I think white South Africans are changing.
But, oh my goodness me, I think, you know there's a lot of debate going around whether the Nationalist Party can in fact win a one man one vote election. There was a fascinating article written by a black journalist here. I'll give you a copy of it if you like, it's a man named Mandla Chala(?) who is sub-editor of one of the local newspapers, and it was just on that very fact, this was before Inkathagate, don't anticipate that the ANC are just going to walk away with the sort of support that they'd always, and the rest of black South Africa, have anticipated. And he's a black. He doesn't think it's going to happen that there's going to be, the Nats are working very skilfully in the Coloured and Indian areas. The white support is there for them except for people who have a history of liberalism and anti-apartheid. This last thing has shaken them but then people are rationalising and saying, you know slush funds are part of the norm in most societies. That's how governments operate. I don't know that his - I think there was a lot of shock and initial anger but then people start to rationalise and think well how would I have acted if I were him if he did know about, which I'm jolly sure he did, about the slush funds and the way of manipulating the power, the process towards the attainment of power and how all will get access to the corridors of power. I don't trust him a scrap.
POM You don't trust him a scrap? Again, why I say you and your friends, it's because you belong to, you are the progressive element among whites so in a way I'm particularly interested in them because you said something last year that I pursued with a number of people and that was the whole question of liberal white guilt of a number people talking about leaving the country now that change is about to occur and feeling guilty about doing it, but nonetheless while they are for the elimination of apartheid they might not necessarily like what might follow it. Is that element still there?
JC I think it is. Look, I have a daughter in Australia. I don't think I would, much as I would love them to be with us and maybe part of the process of change, there's part of me that is quite happy for them to be safe there and not be part of this pain of how things are happening now and how difficult it is and how really life-threatening it is in terms of the poverty in the country and the disorganisation which I understand and I appreciate the problems, but the disorganisation of the ANC. I think we've all been very heartened by the AGM that the ANC held. I mean it really seemed to work well. The people we hoped would come out at the top of the voting did and I think we've all been heartened by that and at the same time the government, because of Inkathagate, has hit a low. So things have evened up a bit and I'm hearing from whites who have been extremely critical of the ANC, they are now saying, thank goodness Thabo Mbeki is there and we're so happy that Winnie didn't get on to the National Working Group. It's amazing, people are watching those names that have just been exiles and really not even had a face, people are becoming familiar with and they are identifying with. I mean they just love Thabo Mbeki and Pallo Jordan, yes, and Chris Hani people are even saying, we saw him on television and he spoke so rationally and so sort of, he wasn't the monster we'd all thought that he was. So it's almost as though, it's quite a hopeful sign that. People are getting their own stars which is quite fun to watch and to hear people talking about the ANC as though it's sort of part of themselves and their lives which is quite amusing too. And instead of it always being Buthelezi, the only one who spoke sense, I notice a shift in people's perceptions of the ANC. The SACP is a huge problem for people because they say now, you know, if we vote for one of the Working Group who's an SACP member as well, how do we know? There needs to be a division and there needs to be clarity and I know why the ANC is probably still clutching them to their bosom but sooner or later there's going to have to be a bit of a parting of the ways, which I think they are recognising. I mean the fact that Hani has taken a different line, I think they're recognising that very much. It's a bit of a problem for me.
POM I had Raymond Mhlaba here before you came and I asked him about what is their definition of comrades and socialism that they are still unable to define really what they mean by 'social'. In a way it sounds more like talking about European Social Democrats than anything else, but it's something they have trouble positioning themselves.
JC Yes I'm sure dear old Raymond who I love, he's the nicest man out, he doesn't make any claims to any kind of academic prowess and I don't know if he himself has really got a very clear idea about things. It's quite funny because we had a stand the other day, a Black Sash stand, well with other Women's organisations, standing on Children's Day and I was standing next to a woman from the ANC Women's League and she said to me, 'I'm a member of the ANC by the way', she said to me, 'Have you joined the ANC?' And I said, 'Yes I joined a year ago, and she said, have you joined the SACP?' And I said, 'No I've got problems with that.' And she said, 'No no, you mustn't have. The SACP are just the same as the ANC but they really put more of the workers' line.' So there is absolutely no perception of what the Communist Party's ideals and objectives are and what it stands for. It's lumped as one in the great majority, I think, of the people who do belong to both organisations.
POM When de Klerk talks about power sharing, that what they are looking for is the sharing of power and not a transfer of power, do you think - well when I ask them what they mean by that, they mean that the National Party, for example, will continue to have an executive role in the government and it would have a number of portfolios, Cabinet portfolios, that it would hold. It would be the junior partner in maybe a government run by the ANC but they would continue to exercise power. One, do you think that's what people that you know would accept?
JC See for the Nationalist Party?
POM See for the future, i.e. whites continuing to have an executive or an important role in the government as distinct from there just being black majority role. By black majority role I don't mean a government comprised entirely of blacks. I mean an ANC government that would reflect for example the composition of its National Executive.
JC I think that scenario for the average white is the best that they are hoping for. I think that's what they hope will happen, that you will have able people with the ability to manage power, blacks probably in the major positions, but I think they hope very much that the whites will have a substantial role to play in maintaining stability and in handling the money. I mean what white people fear is that the country will dissolve into some sort of an anarchy and that they will lose their money and their homes and their kids. It's just what everybody doesn't want to happen and they don't have the experience or the trust and they always look at the rest of Africa which is pretty dismal anyway, which is what makes this country so interesting because it has a chance of being not like that.
POM I was going to ask you about that. But just to go back to the other side of that question, do you think among black people that you know, that you've mixed with and dealt with throughout many years, do you think that would be an acceptable outcome to them?
JC I don't know about the youth. That's not the problem but where the greatest difficulty lies because so many of them have missed out on their education and if, things have to change in a way that changes their lives for the better in some way. But were that, I mean the young blacks that I mostly have dealings with are people who - in fact in the Eastern Cape there is a lot of political, basic political education that has happened over the years and they do see there are necessities and that the skills are a part of the fulfilment of all their dreams and that they know there's this huge lack of skills in the black community. But they will not accept, if things don't happen and are seen to be happening and happen to change their lives it won't take very long for them to - you know some people are saying, but surely the PAC must in fact be very much of a factor because whites just have so much more in the way of opportunity and education and access to the corridors of power and there must be a - it should never manifest into. not even with the PAC youth and Azapo youth that I know, but a resentment on a racial basis. It's hard for me to answer that question, to go back to whether blacks would accept that scenario or whether they would see the black holders of power as some sort of figureheads and that the whites still actually run the state.
POM Have there been any discernible moves that you can see towards the PAC?
JC Not in the Eastern Cape. There's quite a religious/political tolerance here but it's really because of the fact that the PAC does not have any really strong base. If they were stronger maybe that political tolerance would evaporate. [But Mokoe Sikezani (?) is the one of the PAC guys here and he is a most lovely chap.]
POM So you appear a lot more hopeful than you were last year.
JC Do I? Well you know I love what I'm doing and I love feeling a bit relevant to what's happening and we are doing these training programmes for people and people are so anxious. You know we've got a waiting list a mile long of people who want to come on them because people see the need for skills, they see the need to be able to pass on their skills to their communities. I think the main problem in the rural areas is this terrible apathy because people have been removed from any sort of ability to control their own lives since they were born. So we see people starting to wake up and it's not just a political awakening, it's an awakening into the fact that now it is possible for them to strategise a little bit towards change and a little bit towards improving their quality of life and to actually form a single unit with their white local authority. And the white local authorities depending, I mean there are some places that are really stuck hard still in this sort of armament of apartheid, and you're not going to crack them. But you only need one person who's got some idea and a bit of a vision and it's usually a businessman because they hate the consumer boycotts that are put against them so their pockets are a factor, but that's fine wheresoever the change comes from and people are realising that. And so the strategies where before all somehow had violence built into them now have peaceful possibilities built into them which is quite exciting. There's a place very near Bisho called Stutterheim where we've been training people and they've got a marvellous one municipality issue, whole sort of initiative going.
POM Can you say where that is?
JC Stutterheim? Yes, it's only about half an hour from Bisho and there are some guys there that you would actually love to meet.
POM I don't have my second meeting until 4 o'clock in Grahamstown so I could be finished.
JC Yes. I'll show you where Stutterheim is on your map. I just spent a day there and I found it absolutely such a hopeful place.
POM What are they doing there?
JC They had a 7-month consumer boycott last year where the white businesses nearly went out of business. Some of them did and towards the end of it I think the Town Clerk and the white municipality played the role of mediator between the community and the businessmen. One of the demands was always 'We want one municipality', in all these consumer boycotts. And they've actually made very positive progress along those lines which is very exciting. When I was there we were taken to have tea with the local Greek shopkeeper who's got a big general store and he said to me, his name was Nick, he comes from Cyprus, he said 'There's no role I can play in terms of national negotiation but I can get to know Chris, I can get to know the people in our community'. And they really have become friends and I think Nick has particularly moved but I think the other shopkeepers are suddenly seeing people in the community not just as black faces but as individuals which they never did before. Really if those guys are there it would be worth your while to pay them a visit. They'd love it.
POM We'll stop by.
JC Friday would enjoy it as well I'm sure.
POM Have consumer boycotts been the big factor in the Eastern Cape as an instrument of protest?
JC Quite. I mean very often it's the only strategy that people can use. It's tough because the businessmen see themselves as not being the people who are going to be the people who can change the laws and really make upgrade happen. But Stutterheim is an example where they themselves are sitting on this forum, this one-city forum as well, and they're moving and I think, yes, consumer boycotts are quite often - you know people have a rally, they have a march, they make demands and if after a period of time nothing has happened they start thinking in terms of a consumer boycott because what else is there? And it's terribly hard on the black community because they have nowhere to buy. The people of Stutterheim used to have to traipse down to Kingwilliamstown to do their buying and it's very difficult to maintain. I mean the leadership had to make some plan about trucking food in so that the people can have access to it and if they do it well, as they did for seven months, it's a hell of a long time. They've got one going up here in Kirkwood, which isn't far from here, at the present time and the businessmen are moaning like anything and now there is no progress because it's an AWB type municipal body, conservatives. Kirkwood, yes, it's about 40 minutes outside Port Elizabeth and they're locked into a no-win situation. Somebody's going to have to give and it's going to have to be the white municipality because Kirkwood isn't that far. People can get to Uitenhage and do their shopping. So, yes, it's just so interesting. I mean it really is. I really love being a part of it right now. It's difficult and it is a rocky road and we're just so lucky not to have the violence here which makes initiatives like this possible. Violence isn't the first option. Violence doesn't happen before you've had a chance to even think. So there are initiatives coming out of the Eastern Cape that aren't happening in other places which is quite exciting.
POM Thank you, thank you for coming by.