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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

13 Jun 1992: Nagerman, Arthur

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POM     Just for the purposes of the tape, could you say who you are, do you belong to a community organisation, do you work with Linda Twala?

AN     Yes I'm the present chairman of this organisation which caters for seniors citizens. I'm also a director of Alexandra Refuse Removal and keep their books.

POM     So you work here in the community?

AN     That's right, in the Alexandra community.

POM     What I'm trying to get a picture of, part of the study that I'm doing is that I want to do a study on Alexandra over the next four or five years while SA is in transition and show how the political changes that are taking place have an impact here or don't have an impact here. I remember when I talked to Linda last time, we kept meeting each other last summer, so it would have been about August 1990, how proud he was of the fact that Alex had escaped the violence that was then plaguing the other townships and then in late January and February of 1991 things fell apart here. What happened?

AN     Well with Inkatha wanting to enlist or to get more support it had to come into the urban areas. Alexandra was one of them that was targeted because Alexandra previously escaped, as you say, all the violence before but they had to come in so that they get support and the only way of getting support in Alexandra Township was to intimidate the people into accepting them as a party which had (i) clout, (ii) a party that had to be supported one way or the other. But I'm afraid that these efforts can only work if it is continued and sustained but now that the violence has subsided the support for Inkatha is also just dwindling.

POM     Has the violence left a lasting impact on the community? Did it divide the community?

AN     Yes, yes it has, yes and no. It has now brought this feeling of division in the community which hitherto was non-existent because we were one united front. But now there is this lingering doubt that whether the ANC alone should be the major political player. As I say the support for Inkatha is beginning to dwindle, the people are coming, the pieces are coming together again. The fear is no longer paramount in their minds because fear is what actually created these divisions but now that that violence has subsided the fear is diminishing and the cohesion is being realised again.

POM     When this violence broke out in August 1990 many people at the time said there was an ethnic dimension to the violence and that in particular the Zulus saw the ANC as a Xhosa dominated organisation and they saw the fight in terms of Zulu versus Xhosa. What's your own belief?

AN     My feeling is certainly the fact that there are divisions and they've always been there, but they were not as exaggerated as people would like to believe. People regard the ANC as the dominant liberating movement and it is only now with the Inkatha people trying this, the fact that the leadership is comprised of Xhosas, Xhosas, you know the ANC it's always been regarded just as a liberation movement by everybody living in the township. The question of Xhosas is only arising now with the upsurge of Inkatha activities. Obviously, I suppose I would also play that type of politics if I were a leader, try and highlight the fact that, no, the other leader is Xhosa and what have you. But we have coloureds here, we have Sothos, we have all sorts of people, it's not only  Xhosa and Zulu and we have in the leadership that comes mainly from Alexandra Township other nationalities or ethnic groups other than Xhosas.

POM     My general question would be, are there ethnic dimensions to the whole South African question that are not sufficiently taken into account by the ANC who regard any mention of ethnicity as being a kind of an apologist for apartheid?

AN     Well the ANC itself must take into account the divergence of the population in the country and you cannot wish that away, it is there. The only way of going over it is by recognising that it is there and that is the only way perhaps you can of get away from the fact that there are such divisions. You can't just wish it away, they are there, they must be recognised and they must be addressed.

POM     If you look at Alex today, have conditions for the people who live here improved, gotten worse or are just about the same as they were in February 1990, two years ago?

AN     I have to tell you I think they have worsened.

POM     They have worsened?

AN     Yes, I think they have worsened as you can see the proliferation of shacks here. The people that are coming into this area are very, very poor people and in 1990 the population was not as congested as it is now. In 1990 there was still some space, you realised that with a wee bit of other development that the situation could be saved but right now I'm very pessimistic. All right on the top there is talk of change, etc., there will be change, but at the moment the people in Alexandra suffer.

POM     When you look at your own life and the life of your own family can you point to any specific improvement that has occurred that you can attribute to the repeal of apartheid legislation, to the opening up of the political process?

AN     Well unless perhaps if I take my most distant family, there are other schools that have now been opened to them, they can go to schools, etc.  But in terms of my own life, my own very own life and my children, there's very little, there's absolutely nothing that has changed. I think we have this optimism that things will change.

POM     I remember when I was here in December of 1990 how high expectations were of the great things that were going to occur. Do you think more people have been disappointed with the slow rate of change?

AN     I think so, I think change has really not filtered down to the masses. In fact the masses are worse off than they were. Not because of the political changes, just economically they're worse off than they were.

POM     What about schools? You hear a lot about this that some white schools have opened up to black students but, say for example, in the case of yourself, if you had a choice of being able to send your child to a white school in a neighbouring suburb by public transportation or whatever, or you were able to send your child to a school here in Alex that was just as good as that white school, that had the same resources and had just as good teachers, which would you prefer to do?

AN     Well obviously within my community I would do that because it would be cheaper and if, I mean hypothetically, we had the same conditions and facilities as you would find in the white schools, obviously I would have to keep my child here. There would be no need for me to be paying for transport and taking him out of his community. I think he would develop even better here seeing that he would be amongst his own people. If you are amongst your own people you're quicker to grasp the problems, school problems that may arise from time to time.

POM     What about the repeal of the Group Areas Act? Do you personally know people who sold or left their home in the township and bought a house in a white neighbourhood and moved in there?

AN     Yes I know quite a lot, by a lot I mean a handful really. Those that have the money, those that have perks where they work and housing is one of the perks, they obviously take advantage of that.

POM     So the people we'd be talking about would be middle class, white collar workers?

AN     Yes, middle class, white collar.

POM     There's been a lot of talk about a 'new SA', and the phrase has been used over and over again, what does a new SA mean to you? What does it mean in terms of the aspirations you have for your family?

AN     Well a new SA should at least bring about an improved financial situation for me and my family. I should be able to get a job commensurate with my skills. There shouldn't be discrimination in terms of my being employed where I have the same type of skills with somebody else who perhaps made the application later than I have but because of the colour of his skin he's taken.

POM     Do you find that you are still paid at a lower rate for a job than a white would be who would be doing the same job?

AN     This is what I normally pick up in the street. There are changes, we are getting perhaps some recognition for our skills but we are not paid the same as a white man. I wouldn't say that because I work for myself but I have picked that up that that still obtains at the moment. I suppose it will be phased out over a very long period but at the moment discrimination is still there.

POM     Would it be fair for me to sum up your reading of your community as being that people have been here at the grassroots, the ordinary people have been disappointed that things have been moving so slowly, that you feel in many respects, particularly because of the influx of shacks, that the conditions are worse here than they were two years ago and that people are, would it be fair to say, a little bit disillusioned?

AN     Yes I think in fact that it's quite frustrating the way people live here. I don't know whether you've been around?

POM     I have before, yes.

AN     And whether you have been here again now. People are quite disappointed at the slow pace. Despite the fact that additional land has been promised to Alexandra Township it's taking centuries to make that a fact where people can in fact go and live there. I would have thought that with the changing political process that things would be hastened because of that. But despite the changing political process I still find that we're still in the same place.

POM     When you look at Alex today what are the most important problems it faces that have to be addressed in the next four or five years?

AN     When you look at Alexandra the first thing you realise is that there is lack of land. This place is only one square mile and we've got 350,000 people living here. People want to live here because they are nearer to the industrial areas and it's within easy access to town. You can walk to Kew, you can walk to Sandton, or some part of Sandton. So what you really need here is utilisation of these open spaces that are here but that goes hand in hand with the cost, money to develop, have proper infrastructure, etc. I think that should be the thrust of the authorities and the community based organisations to obtain the land and to settle people on that land and thereby try and take out as many shacks as they possibly can so that the place can become again habitable.

POM     That's the main problem?

AN     That's the main problem.

POM     What are some others that come quickly to your mind?

AN     Well improvement of the infrastructure here, improvement of the roads, seeing that people get electricity, etc.

POM     How much of the whole township, what proportion would have electricity?

AN     It's about 20%.

POM     What proportion would have indoor toilets?

AN     Indoor toilets, they now say about 50%. By the way, what do you mean? Because we've got flush toilets outside.

POM     Outside, all right. I'm talking about flush toilets inside.

AN     Flush toilets inside, it's another 20%.

POM     How about running water?

AN     The tap inside the house?

POM     Yes.

AN     Well just put all the basic requirements at 20%.

POM     20%. It's amazing. This leads me almost directly to my next question. When there is a universal franchise and a new government is elected, what must that government do pretty quickly to show the people that a non-racial majority government actually makes a difference to the quality of their lives?

AN     Well this is a multi-faceted answer that has to be given to the question that you ask because, firstly, there is no way of running away from the shortage of housing in our country. That government must come out very clearly and have a housing programme. Two, the economic situation which I presume will improve when we have a majority, a government representing the majority of people, the economic situation surely must improve and we must then pay whomever, according to his ability and according to his skills. You know people have been doing lots of work, skilled work but they've always been classified as unskilled workers but they have actually been doing the job. You find electricians, you find plumbers, you find artisans, but the white man in this country he gets the remuneration of a skilled person whereas that work is being done by the black man. So that must be eradicated as soon as possible because only then will the people realise that, no, no, no, we are being recognised as people, we are no longer second class people, we are in fact recognised for the skills that we can provide.

POM     I want to go back for a minute to a sensitive area but which is part of the story of Alexandra and that is the kind of reign of terror that was imposed here during the mid-1980s by the comrades. How did a situation like that develop where young people, children in some cases, virtually were able to take over a community, summons people to kangaroo courts, administer beatings? What happened that allowed that to happen?

AN     Well I think it may have been pronounced in Alexandra Township but it was a development taking place throughout the country. The young people were becoming frustrated, frustrated on account that they had no jobs, frustrated on the account that their schools were not adequately manned by trained people, frustrated because there was no land, there were no houses. Houses were being promised every time by the government. It is as a result of their promises that they brought about the Black Local Authorities Act, saying that with the Black Local Authorities Act you will have your own councillors, they will provide what is necessary for you in your community. When these things did not materialise and when people were being conservative about it and saying, well I suppose it will happen, it will take some time; the children were impatient, children were impatient and Alexandra, being what it was, it was already overcrowded at the time, not as much as it is now, was a powder keg that could explode any time and it did, in fact it did. In 1984 it exploded whereas it took time before I came here but we could actually say that it's going to happen here because the people here are impatient.

POM     That it could happen?

AN     That it would happen in Alexandra. We knew that people were impatient. It was happening in Duduza, it was happening in KwaThema, but then it had to happen here too.

POM     Why weren't parents able to assert their authority against their children?

AN     Oh it was very difficult at that time, extremely difficult. It was extremely difficult. The parents were told that: we've had enough of your molly-coddling of the situation, we are taking the law into our own hands and we want to bring about change right now. They were actually told and meeting after meeting was called and the parents were warned to steer clear of the youth and their activities because they have now had enough. We tried, I was one of those parents, even the wrath of the children was beginning to be directed against me because I was saying hold your horses, there will come a time, there will be change. Absolutely, we've had enough now. I suppose in any country when change is about to come there are many manifestations of it.

POM     Did the young people impose boycotts?

AN     Yes there were economic boycotts, bus boycotts, school boycotts, all types of boycotts. Then again the one that really hit the system, it was the rent boycott.

POM     So Alex had a rent boycott from what year?

AN     Well from that time up till now, it's only now it hasn't actually been called off. But the Alexandra Civic Organisation late last year mentioned the fact that it will soon call it off, that people must get ready to pay their rent and their services. It hasn't had a punch yet. People are partly paying, others are not paying.

POM     So the rent is paid. What services does it cover?

AN     No services are paid separately.

POM     They are, so this is for housing?

AN     Yes, rent for housing is not paid, but the services people are beginning to pay for services.

POM     Was there a period when they didn't pay for services either?

AN     Yes. Since 1984.

POM     So they didn't pay their rent which would be due on their housing, or they didn't pay the service charges which were due?

AN     That's right. On electricity, water, refuse removal, etc.

POM     So that's still not back to any system?

AN     No. I just saw a pamphlet today. Unfortunately I didn't read it but it relates to payment of services. In fact I told my mother I was coming back to read it.

POM     Mandela, a couple of days ago in Bloemfontein, said that within the next six months there would be an interim government and within 12 months an election for a Constituent Assembly. Given the rate of change that you observed, do you think he's being overly optimistic?

AN     I think so. I remember on the 80th anniversary of the ANC. No I think he's over-optimistic. There are lots of things that have to be addressed. The question of sanctions, for instance, that I think would have been given priority and only as it now begins to show its benefit side by side with the political development should take place, but as it is I can't see that happening. I can't see it. There are entrenched positions that have been taken, for instance, by the right wing, by the left wing, or the ANC. These things firstly have to be addressed. We've got to know where we're going to otherwise what are you going to do? Are you going to put the police and the army onto these people and we start all over again suppressing other minorities? I agree with him, I also share his optimism, but I think he's over-optimistic.

POM     Do you think he is still held in as high esteem today as he was when he was released in 1990?

AN     I cannot say that because he's still a very popular leader. He's still a very, very popular leader and I think he still holds the same esteem.

POM     How about De Klerk? Two years ago a lot of blacks were very positive about De Klerk and had very favourable things to say about him.

AN     Well they feel the De Klerk government is actually slowing down the pace of political development. Then Inkatha came in and became a very disturbing factor in the lives of the people. The people felt that De Klerk could have put an end to this violence by Inkatha which was identified as coming from Inkatha. First it was a suspicion and then it grew with all the revelations that came out that in fact the SADF had their front organisations which were supporting Inkatha and that has besmirched De Klerk in a considerable way. Otherwise the people feel that he's a hero in his own right, that he had the guts, the temerity, the bravery to cut ties with the traditional Afrikaner.

POM     What about right wing violence? Do black people take, or people here, make it local, people in Alexandra think that is seriously something that should concern them or is that something for white people on the government, it's their problem, or do they think that the government can quite easily bring it under control if it wishes to?

AN     That is the impression the people in Alexandra have.

POM     Which one?

AN     That the government can contain the right wing if it wanted to.

POM     Why does it believe that it's not wanting to?

AN     They feel the government still wants support even from the far right so therefore they cannot take any strong action against them.

POM     Again, looking at February 1990, over the last two years have you observed any changes in the behaviour of black people towards whites? Have you observed people become more assertive, more demanding, more self-confident?

AN     Absolutely true, they are assertive, they are demanding because the situation allows them to demand now. But I also notice one thing, they have become more friendly towards their white neighbours, very, very friendly. There are not many white people staying in Alexandra Township, there is a place east of it, but a number of them and they come over weekends, they are friends. If they take your car it's not because you're white, they will take my car as well.

POM     Equal opportunity for car taking.

AN     That's right. They've become very, very friendly.

POM     How about the behaviour of whites? Have you found any difference in the way just whites in general behave?

AN     Whites in general are sceptical, they are afraid this change may place them in some jeopardy that they are thinking or visualising. But I think this thing will die down. I think they will begin to realise the hand of friendship that's being extended and that they will take it, they will take this hand of friendship and we will have a better society.

POM     About the CODESA process, what do you think will emerge out of it?

AN     What I would like to see what would emerge is something else. I would like to see CODESA being given more teeth, that it should actually become the interim government, that some of the resolutions that they take should actually be enacted in law and that they should go further, like I said, become an interim government. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I believe in the sentiments expressed by a number of people that this interim government shouldn't be there as infinity, for ever, it should have a limited lifespan, say two to three years, or four years and that should be the end of it and there should be universal adult suffrage introduced.

POM     Now if at the time universal adult suffrage were introduced and a new constitution drawn up and if that constitution provided for white representation in government, i.e. let's just say for the matter of argument, if it provided that the ANC, let's say the ANC won a majority, but that it required the ANC to share power with the NP, that is to say that the NP might be given control of two or three ministries, finance or transportation or housing or whatever. Would you find a solution that would involve a sharing of power an acceptable solution or do you think the only acceptable solution is one in which the majority wins and the majority rules?

AN     You know, personally, I think majority rule is the ideal but in the South African context and with our stage of development, not having really reached the top, I think as an interim measure I would accept white people to be represented in key posts like, for instance, finance, land development, because they are areas in which they have had vast experience. We still have to train people for that type of purpose and I think it would be an acceptable political process but, as I say, as an interim measure, it mustn't be for always. After all what will majority rule mean? Not necessarily black rule. It should be a majority where everybody is involved and the party that polls the more votes should be the majority.

POM     What about the huge disparities in social and government spending on blacks and whites, whether it's on education or health care or social welfare or pensions or education? How quickly must those disparities be brought into line, how quickly must things be made equal and can they be made equal without lowering the standard of living of white people?

AN     Well we must look at both the lowering and the lifting of standards. On the one hand the lowering of standards, of white people's standards, and we must think of jacking up the black people as well on the other hand. We mustn't now start being sentimental about the whole thing. We must say that over a period of four, five years, let the black facilities also be improved to equal that enjoyed presently by the whites. But what are we really looking at? We're looking at sharing the very facilities that the whites are having today. I mean that would make it easier and proliferating them on the other side, increasing similar facilities, having them in certain areas where everybody can come in.

     I happened to go to Lourenco Marques some time ago, Maputo, long before it was Maputo, I had just gone there visiting, and I had never seen a white man in a black location in SA, but I went to Maputo, it was one of those filthy shanty towns that always develop when there's urbanisation. Everybody was there, there was the Indian, there was the white man, there was everybody. So there was wheeling and dealing, there was a lot of activity. This is exactly what I am saying should happen even if we had now very good clinics here the people in surrounding white areas should be able to enjoy in these facilities and so we must we, there's a big hospital here which was a black hospital before, it was closed down because it was in a wrong area, that's Edenvale, I mean facilities of that nature must be opened again. It was in the wrong area for us, we can't go there any longer, and despite the lifting, or they say there's no discrimination as far as hospital services, just go there and have a look for yourself. You won't find one single black face perhaps for lack of knowledge or for fear of aggressive attitude.

POM     The youth, you mentioned very high levels of unemployment here and you've mentioned that people are somewhat disappointed in the slow rate of change. You've mentioned that conditions may actually have gotten worse in Alex itself over the last two year. Is the youth disillusioned with the ANC? Does the youth believe that to end the armed struggle was the wrong thing to do? Is the youth ready to move in the direction of supporting the PAC?

AN     Well let me put it this way, the youth is not at the moment, has not reached the point of disillusionment with the ANC. But I can see it slowly getting to that point unless the change is accelerated, the pace of change is accelerated. At the moment they are still thinking or believing a change will come. They are quite impatient but the voice of reason so far they are listening to - wait, let your leaders try and get the necessary changes for you. You know they are busy with a government that has been used to dominate all along, so hold your horses, bide your time, change is going to come. As far as joining the PAC is concerned, perhaps I just regard them as a movement that is coming on now into SA and trying to win over support by shooting policemen. I think that the moral there is outdated. We now need to negotiate, we now need to talk to one another. The youth realise that, otherwise I can assure you there would have been demonstrations against the ANC already. But if this thing drags on, this very slow pace of change, I think it's going to turn the youth against the establishment.

POM     So how long? Time span? Can you make a projection for me?

AN     Well something must happen within the next two years. Something must happen in the next two years whereby they can see visible changes.

POM     OK. I will leave it there for today. Thank you very much.  I want to get the spelling of your second name again. It's Arthur?

AN     Arthur Nagerman. In the next two years if nothing happens there will be rumblings of discontent. There may not be open rebellion but there will be rumblings.

POM     OK, thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.