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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

25 Jul 1992: Tutu, Desmond

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POM     Your Grace, it's now nearly two years since Mr de Klerk released Mandela and other political leaders and unbanned the ANC. Has the process of South Africa moving towards a full non-racial democracy lived up to your expectations or has it not yet met those expectations?

DT     It's not lived up to my expectations to the extent that one would have hoped that by now we would have had in interim government and I did make predictions at the end of June we would have an interim government and a Constituent Assembly by the end of this year. But on the other hand one has to say too that there have been some extraordinary things that have taken place. I mean the Peace Accord being signed which are sort of high points in terms of miracles that seem to take place in this extraordinary country. CODESA itself in some ways is an extraordinary thing to have taken place and then the referendum. White people seemed to be saying that they were hitching their wagon to this particular wagon of negotiations. But the violence has, in a way, almost put paid to that.

POM     I'll get back to the violence in a couple of minutes. The ANC accused the government of having a double agenda; on the one hand the olive branch of negotiations and on the other hand a campaign to destabilise the organisation and undermine it's following in the townships. Do you think the ANC are by and large correct in their analysis of what the government is doing?

DT     I think that we need to stop being naïve, all of us in many ways, and recognise that politicians are politicians. And politicians are in the business of getting power and when they've got that power they want to do all they can to perpetuate it and it is not peculiar to any particular breed. I suspect that the government are not strange in this, in wanting to ensure that they weaken their likely opponents. Whether there is deliberation in, for instance, fomenting violence or whether there is connivance, the violence has certainly been a very destabilising factor and undermined the efforts of the government opponents to mobilise and get support. And I don't think in fact that it does matter too much whether the government is doing this consciously, deliberately or not. The end result is the same and one is very conscious of the fact that they could stop the violence if they wanted to. And my stance and the stance of very many other people is that they are not doing all they could, because we've now got the Waddington Report which indicates that the level of incompetence is breathtaking.

POM     It struck me with the portion of that report, and this is really a side question, I read that it portrayed the South African Police as incompetent, without investigative ability, with poor management structures and yet it is the very same police force that around the world was portrayed a few years ago as being ruthlessly efficient, of being able to smell an activist from 1500 metres away and it seemed inconsistent that it would be painted now as it has been.

DT     You will probably have discovered that South Africa suffers from a major dose of schizophrenia. We are all schizophrenic. I mean, you're quoted to be saying one thing and you say it firmly and almost categorically and in the same breath you have got to qualify it almost out of existence by saying the opposite. But that is the kind of reality that is South Africa in fact. To say that blacks are all committed to liberation and then also to be saying that there are others who believe that their lot must be tied in by being junior collaborators and junior partners in the process of the oppression of their own people. This extraordinary thing that you can get even now is that you would have thought any sensible person would have said, "If we were united we would have been a lot further down the road." But there are people who, except for the complexion of their skin, cannot be differentiated from the position, when they make utterances, from the position of the government.

POM     Going back to one of the things you touched on a couple of moments ago. Mr Mandela recently has been very direct in accusing Mr de Klerk of complicity in the violence which is a very long way removed from his statement 2½ years ago of Mr de Klerk being a man of integrity and how much faith people put in the personal chemistry that existed between the two leaders. Do you think statements like that are injurious to the process? Do you think that Mr Mandela is his own man, so to speak, or that in a certain way he is, I won't say hostage, but has to bend to the will of his organisation as a whole?

DT     Again one has to say yes and no. Yes, obviously it upset the apple cart and makes it more difficult for them to have the kind of rapport that they did seem to have at the beginning, which was an important ingredient in getting the negotiations going, that they seemed to have this relationship. And when that relationship is now in the doldrums it makes it all the more difficult. It doesn't make it impossible, but it means now that they can't just nod at each other or wink or say, well you and I understand each other. On the other hand one has also to say that Nelson has got a constituency and if he is going to be able to deliver that constituency he cannot afford to alienate its support and very many I think, or certainly the younger, maybe the more radical, the more impatient, in his camp will have said that they think the ANC has conceded far too much. They have suspended the armed struggle, even if that was not effective, psychologically it represented an important element in the struggle that many more have died.

     You know we went to see them, when I say 'we' with Frank Chikane and .... on Tuesday, well certainly the day when they were going to announce that there was going to be a break in the talks. We went to see the ANC National Executive meeting in Kempton Park and we had lunch with the proceedings and it was quite clear that Mr Nelson Mandela had been hit very hard by the song that was sung in Boipatong. He kept coming back to the fact that when he went they were singing that the ANC, the lamb and we are killed, and he said that as they were walking round Boipatong that song kept being sung and when he got up 20,000 people just got up and they sang that for quite a while. And it was quite clear that he'd been hit in the solar plexus by it. So he needs to be very careful that he is not seen to be a pushover. I think that he naturally is someone who has this dignity and this determination but once, I think if he is upset then he gets a determination in the other direction. He's a very accommodating person but maybe, like many who take long to get angry, when he does got there then it's very difficult to move him.

POM     Let me move to a different question and it's rather long. I'm going to quote you, it was a statement that at the time you made it and it struck me with particular force and I marked it. It was one you made in March 1991 when you told your congregation in Cape Town that there was something, and I quote you "... desperately wrong with the black community." You said, "We are becoming brutalised and almost anaesthetised to accept what it totally unacceptable. In political groups, the black community are fighting for turf and they do not seem to know, certainly some of the followers do not seem to know, that a cardinal tenet of democracy is that people must be free to choose who they want to support." You acknowledged the circumstances that lead to violence in South Africa, poverty, the dehumanisation of violence, apartheid, brutality of the white police. But ultimately you said, "We must turn the spotlight on ourselves, we can't go on forever blaming apartheid." That was fifteen months ago. During the last fifteen months the violence has got worse and the killings have become more brutal, intolerance more endemic. What does the spotlight tell us now? What is to blame if apartheid is not to blame for everything?

DT     It isn't to blame for everything. I think we abdicate from being who we are, autonomous persons who are ultimately responsible for what we do and say and think. We are not just playthings of blind forces. Those blind forces are very, very potent, yes, but ultimately we have to say that God has created us and our people have an incredible resilience. When you go to these informal settlements and you see the conditions under which people live, it's exhilarating to see how they don't allow that to dehumanise them. If it is possible under those thoroughly dehumanising conditions for people to be able to laugh, for people to be able to love, to bring up children, to try to be tidy and so on, then it must be possible to say that no matter how horrendous the circumstances we don't cease to be human and we don't cease to have to take responsibility for who we are and for what we do with who we are. You say that with all the deep sensitivity you have for what circumstances can do, and we know circumstances can be virulent, but I don't think we do our people a favour by saying that we mustn't ultimately say do I really want to go this direction or do I want to go that direction. And therefore it is still right for us to condemn and condemn out of hand whatever may have driven you, and there are often overwhelming reasons why you should go that way, you still have, even if you call it a modicum, you still have the capacity to say, that is not how I am going to be.

POM     Coming back to what you said about schizophrenia, you talk about you can go into the informal settlement, shacks, and see how people live and we've done that. I've been astonished at the cleanliness and the way people take care of their clothes and their children and whatever, and yet Cape Town is the murder capital of the world with an astonishing rate of killing, several times higher than any comparable city. There were 12,000 people killed in this country last year and only 300 involved the murder of whites. The fact that political murders, the violence we talk about all the time, only accounts for 30% of all the violence, that there appears to be an endemic culture of violence that permeates every aspect of society. What has to be done to address that both institutionally and in terms of leadership and where is that leadership coming from, or is it coming from anywhere?

DT     Ultimately of course it has to do with your sins of reverence or lack of reverence for human life and we've admitted that apartheid has a lot to answer for and in terms of reckoning human life cheap apartheid has a great deal to be blamed for in that regard. When you look at some of the laws that we've had, leaving aside things like the pass laws and so on, when you think that we've had the laws like the Immorality Act, Mixed Marriages Act where police would be snooping on people who might actually be deeply in love, to have something as beautiful as that nullified and besmirched by police breaking into the room because they thought that people were going to be making love across the colour line. Now if you are enforcing laws of that sort, if you are enforcing laws that almost make it necessary for you to deny the worth of other people, it doesn't take very long for the whole thing to be so internalised that the culture you have is a culture that comes to reckon human life as of little worth. And we've seen the repercussions of this in something that is peculiar, I think, to South Africa where a man wipes out his whole family and himself and almost always it's been white people who do this. We must not be surprised at that phenomenon. It is a direct consequence of having a set-up where human life is cheap. You start off by saying black life is cheap but because this is God's world you can't say one kind of life is cheap without that having an impact and repercussions on how - and I would say that is a very important reason for the kind of crime rate that we have. But when you look at the squalor and the very blatant contrasts, you have a mother going to work in a white home and she sees all these extraordinary things that are there and has to go back into a township setting.

POM     Intuitively one would think that black anger would be directed at whites yet black anger is directed, it seems, at blacks, at each other.

DT     There is a very straightforward and simple response to that. When you have injustice and oppression and you're a victim of that, one of the most pernicious consequences is the self hate, self loathing, self disgust that it generates in its victims and what you then see operating is a projection: I hate what I am and I am black and so since I cannot carry out a process of self destruction I am going to destroy the thing that I don't like and I am looking at it over there and so I strike at that. This is why it seems to me, first of all we say apartheid is evil, it's blasphemous because it's consequence has been to make a child of God doubt that they are a child of God, in fact deny to themselves that they are a child of God. And the second thing to say is, what we have needed is a thorough dose of black consciousness. It's true now that most people say we let go of black consciousness before it had completed its work which was to help blacks entering into a sense of their worth as a person.

POM     When you say apartheid is evil, in all the interviews that I've conducted in the last three years with most Cabinet Ministers, with senior people in the public service sector, wherever, with senior white church people, not one person has said that apartheid is evil. They would say it was wrong and they would distinguish between petty apartheid and grand apartheid, that petty apartheid was wrong but grand apartheid was really - it was executed wrong but the intention was right. There seems to have been no acknowledgement at all in the white community that they have done grievous wrong to the black community for hundreds of years and in particular in the last forty years. In the absence of any public acknowledgement by the community or its representatives, can you develop the basis for a consensus that would forge a common way forward?

DT     I think you are being a bit unfair on them because last year at the Rustenburg Church Conference there was a public acknowledgement and confession. I was involved in it insofar as I said, "Well we forgive you." The Dutch Reformed delegation there, which was a very high powered one, said they associate themselves with that confession. They were not more specific but they say so and you are aware that one Cabinet Minister, Leon Wessels, did in fact say apartheid was wrong and he was sorry for what it did. Even my last visit with the State President about two weeks ago, when I met with him I said, "You know if you were to get up in a representative capacity and say we realise we have caused you suffering and pain, for the pain we are sorry, please forgive us." Now he said to me he has done so and then he turned to the Director General of his department and said, "I've said so in public." I don't know whether in Japan or somewhere like that, yet we still would need that confession.

     But what I've been saying is what is obviously the Christian position. The Christian position is if there is going to be reconciliation it has to be based on forgiveness. Forgiveness is based on confession and confession is based on contrition. And when someone says I'm sorry, the one who is wronged is under constraints of the gospel to forgive but the one who has wronged must then demonstrate that they were serious about their contrition by what they do thereafter, what restitution, what reparation.

     I keep trying to say to white people that we probably have been given as Africans, not something to boast about, but we have I think been given a remarkable capacity to forgive. When you look at Kenya, when the Mau-Mau war was happening people talked about Kenyatta as the devil incarnate and the grave of white people. Kenyatta became President and everybody said what will happen to Kenya because Kenya became one of the most stable places. Zimbabwe, Ian Smith after independence remained a Member of Parliament until he resigned and he's got people in government whom he knows he treated in a beastly fashion and ought to have expected that they would want to engage in some revenge. You've got it in Namibia. You've got it even here. De Klerk would not have risked releasing Nelson if he had encountered someone who was consumed with bitterness and a desire for revenge. Our people actually just want the knowledge that these people want to live harmoniously.

POM     Part of what must happen in the future is some process of redistribution to eliminate imbalances and it would seem to me that what you are talking about when you are talking about contrition, that in order for that to happen in an acceptable way, politically that does not become divisive, that there must be an acknowledgement of the wrong and an understanding of the need for reparation and that does not appear. Whites I hear say glibly, "Yes it's a new South Africa, let's start a fresh start and we're all equal", and they kind of wipe out the past with one stroke of the pen or the brush.

DT     We've told them that if they do that then the past is going to haunt you. It can't be let bygones be bygones. It won't. You have to deal with the past in a creative way to help healing and there's going to have to be - I mean I don't know that we would want, I mean I know, I don't think we want a Nuremberg or things of that kind, but I think there has got to be a kind of declaration that here are things that happened, some of the things that we've been suspecting might have been happening. I think that someone has got to say that this is part of our history and to deal with that history we've got to say that there were culprits and so forth. I don't think that we are going to be helped too much by wanting to dig up all of that and pillorying people. No. But there's got to be a thing that says certain things have happened in this country. They have not been done only by white people. In wars and so on maybe blacks have done certain things. Let's say, yes we did that and we're sorry. You guys did certain things, say you are sorry and where you are able to make reparation you jolly well have got to make the reparation. There are some things that they can do actually. I mean they've taken people off land and some of that land is standing fallow. It's not being used. They ought to restore that land. They stole it from the people. Where they are not able to make that kind of restitution they've got to look at what possible stance they can take to minimise the pain. District Six, are we or are we not going to do something creative about that - a huge pain in the hearts and the souls of coloured people. What can we do? No glib let bygones be bygones is going to deal with that adequately.

POM     Do you think just as whites must learn to do with less privilege that blacks must learn responsibility, that apartheid has been an excuse for not being fully accountable or responsible and that part of the legacy of apartheid could become in a way, for want of a better phrase, a culture of entitlement?

DT     I'm not certain of the characterisation about lack of responsibility. Of course it's been remarkable. When you think of a domestic worker in a white house bringing up white children, I mean the level of responsibility there is quite remarkable actually. But I would agree with you to the extent of saying that we ought to be doing something about expectations. Some people think that when the new dispensation happens, if it happens tomorrow, today I don't have a house, tomorrow because the new dispensation has happened I must have a house. Today I don't have work, tomorrow I must have work. Today my children go to poorly equipped schools, poorly equipped and so on, tomorrow they will necessarily be going into better equipped schools and so on. I think that we've got to say to our people, yes there are some things that must happen and it's going to be crucial that before our economy picks up for people to see that there is in fact a qualitative difference between living in an apartheid, repressive dispensation and in a free dispensation, but equally that freedom brings not only rights but obligations.

POM     This is what I was zoning in on. Again, sometimes I get the impression, again it's like that apartheid is to blame for everything, therefore everything is my due because I have been oppressed. Therefore any action I take, whether it's to strike over anything, the downing of tools, is OK because I'm an oppressed person therefore I can do it. You have exploited me and therefore I can take these actions. If that exists, how does a new government unlearn this mentality to understand the need for sacrifice and hard work and the exercise of obligation in order to improve the lot of everyone?

DT     I don't know whether you've seen copies of the charter that has been drawn up between COSATU and SACCOLA which many thought would have helped to bring about, to avert August 3rd, because you see one of the things that the trade union movement has I think begun to teach people is that you are entering into a covenant, into a relationship, management/workers, and that there are in fact obligations on the part of those of you who are workers that it is not just get, get, get. But I believe we need to be underscoring this whole idea that this is our country and what happens to it is going to be decided very largely by how we operate in it. And leaders are going to be a crucial element. Someone was saying about Africa that it has too many rulers and not so many leaders, people who have vision, who are able to inspire. When you look at things like the Freedom Charter, it's very idealistic in many ways, but it does speak of the kind of society that is not just a grasping society. It is a society that speaks about caring and I would myself say that obviously the kind of government we get will have an important bearing on how people's attitudes develop.

     I've been to Tanzania, now Tanzania is a poor country but it's been quite extraordinary. I think the impact that Nyerere has had on that country, that in their poverty, although they exist cheek by jowl with Kenya which in many ways materially is better off than them, but they have a far greater sense of pride in who they are. I mean they walk and you can see that Tanzanians have a pride that I have not seen, I mean a proper pride, that I have not seen actually anywhere else in Africa. It's almost paradoxical that in a country as less well off as that, that they can have this self-assurance. Tanzanians, I don't know whether you've met any Tanzanians, that they can have a sense of satisfaction where you would have expected them to be turning out against Nyerere. Nyerere is held in the highest, highest possible regard. I would hope that we could get some leaders who would be able to inspire people in that kind of way, that you would have leaders who would make people see that material prosperity actually is not everything. Now it's important, it is important but it isn't everything. It isn't what gives you dignity. It isn't what gives you a self-assurance. It isn't what gives you a proper pride.

POM     Where in this picture do you place the youth, this generation that was raised on liberation before education, that's unemployed, that's unemployable, whose future looks enormously bleak, who have learnt only a culture of militancy and mobilisation and suddenly they're being told don't mobilise, who learnt to be intolerant of apartheid and are now being told - it now comes back to they are suddenly supposed to unlearn behaviours that apartheid instilled in them. How does one get in there? How does one?

DT     I must say I am quite amazed at many of these young people. I was at the funeral in Boipatong and there's no doubt at all that the level of anger has increased very considerably. Maybe it's going to be a traumatic day for me, the day they repudiate me, because you see I get up there. One, I'm able to make them laugh at a time of very deep sadness, and they are laughing not - I mean in part they are actually laughing at themselves. We are all laughing at ourselves and we laugh and we say, yes the situation is horrible and yet it is not so horrible that we cannot be human beings and we cannot say we'll take a handle on this life. And I say to them, "Are you ashamed of being black?" That area is largely ANC but to shout a slogan that is almost PACish or AZAPOish, you get them actually responding as people who do have a dream. One must not idealise them, but when you can get them at a time such as that to be able to say we know we are going to be free, black and white together, is almost in a way unthinkable. It is a very, almost bizarre to think that it can happen.

     But we had another funeral I think last year, at Jabulani Amphitheatre, and lots of people had been killed and I was saying to the young people there that you know things are going to change in this country but if you want to be part of those who run this country you're not going to be able to do it without going to school. And so I said to them they must shout whether they agree with me, "We want education." And they did.

     Now in Soweto, as you're saying, they're looking for radical kids. They have had a raw deal. We struggled, many of us struggled to get them back to school. Where do they get back to? They get back to the same depressing plant that is deteriorating, teachers who are disheartened, poorly qualified, and yet again when you look at some of these children when they the opportunity they come to UWC and they're given a chance and you realise that actually we are doing them a disservice in some ways by these categorisations. But when they are given opportunities and when they can see that there is the possibility of changing - I'm chairperson of a scholarship programme, we're sending each year about 110 young people to schools, universities in the USA and we don't have enough money in terms of the applications that we get.

     What I'm saying is that, yes, it's a crisis of horrendous proportions that we've got on our hands but it isn't one that we could not deal with. These children want to have a better deal and when someone comes along and he says we're going to try to give you a better deal they do actually grasp it. I've lived in Soweto and where we lived there are about two high schools, there are children who go to school but I know that even when they pass this matric most of them are woefully ill-qualified to get to university. But they still do it, they still do go and they still try and they are ill-served by society and maybe if this government would stop being as crazy as it is because there are not many white children, it's now retrenching white teachers when they are desperately needed, when you get schools standing empty. We've still got madnesses in our country where we are wasting resources. You said I should have brief answers.

POM     Two more questions.

DT     Well at least you've got your hour. Shylock. He really does want his pound of flesh.

POM     It seems to me there are two languages being spoken in this country for the past 2½ years and one is the language of the government which talks about the process that is going on as the process that is about the sharing of power with the black community, and the other is the language that is being used in the liberation movements which says that it is a process about the transfer of power to the majority and free, fair and democratic elections. These two languages kind of clashed at CODESA. In your view what is the process about?

DT     Well I said so yesterday. You may not have been watching the news but yesterday I said that I think we have the capacity to break the deadlock if we do three things. One, for the government to take immediate and specific actions to end the violence and be seen to be taking those actions and one has made some suggestions. The other is that there should be a commitment on all sides to a sovereign constitution making body elected democratically and freely. Let that body, if you want me to spell it even more specifically, the government has been making claims that it is now no longer an all-white party, they've got support from blacks and coloureds. The ANC is making claims about its support. The Inkatha make claims about their support. You say, well these are all untested claims, for goodness sake give the people of this country the right to deliver the verdict.

POM     Could you in that very context have free and fair elections given the present climate of violence in the country?

DT     That is why we have been speaking about an international presence to monitor the violence, to monitor the operational security forces and they could then be the same or different or a different group who would come to declare whether elections were in fact free and fair. It's difficult, it's not impossible. It is difficult if the government doesn't do anything to end the violence but as I've said my premise is the government can stop the violence if they want to. They don't, it seems to me, wish to act decisively and that is what everybody has been saying, or most people have been saying.

POM     One last question which refers to a statement that you made yesterday that your fear is that the mass mobilisation, general strike, takes off on 3rd August, that it will slowly slide into anarchy and someone this morning with whom we spoke before coming here, who is a big, big fan of yours, said that he was rather surprised by you making this statement and it sounded like a statement that the IFP would make.

DT     But one is warning that with the high level of unemployment, with the anger that there is on the ground, I'm actually just saying that there is a very serious danger that is the direction it will go. You've already had instances here in Cape Town where the mass action has ended in violence.

POM     Do you think with the kind of mass action that almost a necessary, an inevitable component of it, is intimidation?

DT     I'm scared. I mean it's already happening with the hospital strike.

POM     Last night I believe that you talked with some nurses who talked about how they go to work but don't wear their uniforms, they feel threatened but they like to go to work.

DT     Part of it is also maybe trying to put the wind up the private sector to get off their bums and do something because if in fact it becomes chaotic there can't be business.

POM     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.