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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

22 Aug 1993: Holomisa, Patrick

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PH      Yes, let me first of all you are not speaking to Patrick Holomisa, you are speaking to Patekile.

POM     Pat?

PH     Yes, they usually call me Pat, but the full name is Patekile.

POM     Patekile. OK, I'm sorry.

PH     You are requesting me to speak about myself?

POM     Yes, Like, what is your background, where were you born, went to school?

PH     I was born at Mnqanduli, born of parents who are chiefs, traditional leaders of a community, or tribe if you will call it, the Hegebe. They are a clan of the Thembu tribe and when I grew up and went to school, I did my primary education here in the Transkei in the district of Ngqeleni. And went up to do my junior certificate at St John's College in Umtata.

POM     Was it a boarding school?

PH     It was a boarding school, yes. And I completed my matriculation examination education at Bandingville Institute at Indamasa High School in Ngqeleni. And then I went over to do my BA degree at the University of Transkei. And later, went on to do my LLB degree at the University of Natal, in Durban. Thereafter I did Articles of Clerkship, initially intending to practice as an attorney, but later changed my mind and decided to join the Bar, and now I am an Advocate of the Supreme Court of the Transkei having also being admitted to the Bar in South Africa, as well as the Republic of Ciskei.

POM     So you can practice Law in ...?

PH     In South Africa, yes. Well, it was in the course of my studies I was attracted to the struggles that were being waged by students, and was involved in structures like house committees and things, when I was at University of Transkei. Later on, I was, I think, actively involved in AZASO, then it was called AZASO, Azanian Students' Organisation, which was the organisation that was set up after the banning of the South African Students' Organisation. And later on it changed its name to be South African National Students' Congress, SANSCO. And now SANSCO, now it has since merged with the white, formerly white students' organisation, NUSAS. It is now called SASCO, South African Students' Congress. And as I was about to finish my studies at university, I was confronted by the prospects of my having to assume my duties as a traditional leader.

POM     Assume your duties as a?

PH     As a chief of the Hegene tribe.

POM     How did that go to you? How did you get to be the Chief?

PH     Like I said, my father was a Chief, he was a Chief.

POM     Is your brother, like Bantu, older than you, right?

PH     You see, in our communities we have several houses. He belongs in the "right hand house". And we belonged in the "great house", so that's why he's junior to me though he's older. So my father died in 1973 and someone else, one of my other uncles had to act as Regent for me until I was in a position to take over. So as I continued with my studies and as my eyes became open to - I mean, began to see what was happening, the role that the chiefs had being playing within the apartheid system, which was in fact a perpetuation of the oppressive system of our people, I found myself having a dilemma in the sense that my community expected me to take up my responsibility, act as their traditional leader. At the same time I knew that I would be involving myself in a system that was abhorrent and was oppressive over the very same people I'm supposed to serve because I was expected to join, for instance, the homeland parliament of Transkei.

POM     The homeland parliament?

PH     Parliament, as an ex-officio member without having to be elected. Now, I decided to do some consultation. At the time there was always talk about the ANC and the SACP intending to abolish the institution of chieftainship once it took over power. So at that time, like everyone else, I went out of the country to meet the ANC in Lesotho, variously in Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia in order to establish exactly what their intentions were and also to get advice from them as to what I should do once I was finished with my studies. And I was assured, more than once, that the institution of chieftainship is too important within the African community and has played a too great a role in previous years especially at the time of the dispossession or the wars of resistance.

POM     At the time of?

PH     Of the wars of resistance, when the colonialists came into the country to take over the country and control of the lives of the people, that it would be a mistake for any organisational government to try to do away with it. All that needs to be done, I was advised, is for the institution to be transformed in such as way that it promotes the interests of the people it's supposed to serve. And, accordingly, I was assured. Then I knew that there was nothing wrong in me getting into my father's shoes when the time came. At the same time, from Kwa-Ndebele there came out an organisation called The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa. The idea originated after the people, together with their traditional leaders in the homeland of Kwa-Ndebele, fought the vehemently and successfully against the imposition of Pretoria style "independence" on that homeland. You know, that time it was around 1986/87. It was the turn, according to the Pretoria programme, of the Bantustan system. It was the turn-off for Kwa-Ndebele to take its own independence. And, unlike in other areas, where you found that traditional leaders were in the forefront in the acceptance of this independence in the face of opposition from the people and their organisations. In Kwa-Ndebele the traditional leaders were in the forefront in the fight against the imposition of this type of independence.

POM     Who were the chiefs?

PH     The chiefs?

POM     Who were in the forefront?

PH     Yes. In fact I prefer to refer to chiefs as traditional leaders because the term "chief" is not appreciated by the traditional leaders. It does tend to signify a lowering of the status of the traditional leaders. So, the organisations in Kwa-Ndebele were fighting or either prosecuting their struggles under the banner of the United Democratic Front. We found that residents and residents' associations, professionals and professional organisations, and students had their own organisations. So that whatever form of action that needed to be taken by a specific section of the community, you found that they were organised into a body. And as such, they were able to exact enough pressure on the authorities for their demands to be met. So, that's when then now traditional leaders did not have an organisation of their own and as such they were still prosecuting their struggles with their communities on a tribal basis, if you will. They were not an organised and unified force. And it was felt that the lessons of the struggles of the past indicated that there is need for traditional leaders to be united because, as I was referring to the wars of resistance, the Xhosa in the Eastern Cape waged their own struggles on their own without the assistance of traditional leaders from Lesotho, Zululand and so on. So, one of the reasons that the Africans were defeated, besides the fact that they were using inferior types of weapons against the war machinery that was being employed by the colonialists, who are the British and so on, they were fighting as individual communities and as such it was easy for them to be beaten by the colonisers.

     So, then this idea that an organisation of chiefs should be formed was developed and the traditional leaders there as well as the activists within the UDF felt that this organisation should not be confined only to traditional leaders in Kwa-Ndebele. It must not be a tribal organisation because they realised that the problems facing traditional leaders in Kwa-Ndebele are similar to problems facing traditional leaders in Transkei, Ciskei, Venda, Lebowa and all over the country. And as such, it would be better if they formed this organisation, like everybody else that has their own organisation, to be able as a group now, united and across tribal and communal lines, boundaries, to discuss their problems and find solutions that will be able to be used in order to get rid of the problems they are facing in their areas. And also, they realised that the homeland system had survived to the extent that it had because of the support that it received from the traditional leaders.

POM     Why so?

PH     You see, what happened is that when Pretoria set up these tribal homelands it made a constitution for these homelands which provided for the number of seats, the greater number of seats in parliament to be occupied by traditional leaders who were not elected. So that you find that even if the people have voted for a party that did not want the homeland system then their aim will be defeated in the sense that traditional leaders who were in the majority, who have been promised all sorts of things, were in the majority nonetheless. So that you found that almost all the ruling parties in these homelands had traditional leaders as their members. And the majority then, majority party, became the majority party of the traditional leaders. Then, it almost invariably, at the beginning, you would find that the chief ministers would be traditional leaders and cabinet ministers. The majority of the cabinet ministers would be people who are traditional leaders themselves. So there were some benefits in the system, for traditional leaders.

POM     They were kind of bought off?

PH     Yes. They were being bought off. So we felt that it was the responsibility of traditional leaders to reverse this process because they assisted the regime in implementing these apartheid policies, in the form of the homeland administration. And as such we need to be seen by our people to be united now, to be fighting against the continuation of the system of this homeland system. So, later on the organisers of this organisation somehow got to notice me and then I was invited, I think it was in 1989 when I was invited to a conference which was attended by traditional leaders from all over South Africa, from all ten homelands. Of course, at that time such activities were not publicised unduly because of the oppression of the time on the part of the government. The organisers decided to select a few individuals who they believed would be amenable to this idea of the formation of the organisation of traditional leaders. Then in that meeting I was one of the people elected to be on the executive committee, and Chief Maphumulo, you must have heard of Chief Maphumulo from Pietermaritzburg, he was elected our first interim president. And I was one of the vice-presidents at the time. Our task was to draft a constitution for the organisation, move around the country, introduce this idea and this organisation to traditional leaders, call upon them to make comments on the draft constitution that we've prepared. So that eventually there would be a conference, a national conference, where all traditional leaders now will be invited.

POM     Did you find much resistance among traditional leaders you were trying to sell this new idea to?

PH     No, we didn't. From traditional leaders themselves we didn't get any resistance. But we did get resistance from the authorities in these homelands. That is, the governments of these homelands, notably, KwaZulu, Ciskei and Bophuthatswana. All the other homelands were helpful and co-operative with us. They did organise meetings for us to address traditional leaders but we've not met any success in that regard from KwaZulu and Bophuthatswana because of their being opposed to anything that is about unity of the African people, the advancement of the struggle for a free and undivided South Africa. But nonetheless, in all homelands we did manage to get through to the traditional leaders in spite of the lack of co-operation on the part of the governments I have mentioned. So, at the present moment now we have membership from all ten homelands and outside the homelands.

POM     So you were elected president in?

PH     I was elected as a president of the organisation in 1990. My term expires in September this year. We are having a three-year term and then new elections are to be held.

POM     So all the traditional leaders in the country have a representative with Contralesa?

PH     I think in the main we are fairly representative of the traditional leaders. Like I said, the only area that we are having problems with is KwaZulu in the sense that he is the one leader, that is Buthelezi [who is the only host the ??? traditional leaders] because he knows that he himself survives on the basis of tribalism. Were traditional leaders to be exposed to the views that we hold, that our existence as tribes and language talking does not depend on the continuation of the division along tribal or racial lines. Because South Africa belongs to all of us now, irrespective of your language or race to which you belong. But at the same time our traditions and customs need to be protected, but they don't have to be protected by isolating the various African tribes.

POM      The deadlock the other day on the Bill of Rights that was being debated at the World Trade Centre, that the traditional leaders were saying that the position has been that the Bill of Rights overrules the powers of the traditional leaders. Am I right on that?

PH     Yes, in fact yes. The decision was taken that traditional leadership is going is going to be guaranteed by the constitution insofar as it accords it indigenous laws or customs and traditions. But it doesn't end there, the drafters of the constitution will have made a mistake if they are to take a position which tends to remove traditional leaders from the political arena. You see, our view as Contralesa is that traditional leaders, in accordance with their position, traditional position, are not supposed to be involved in party politics, that is politics of division. They are supposed to be above party politics.

POM     Sorry can you repeat that?

PH     They are supposed to be above party politics. As a traditional leader you are not supposed to align yourself with the ANC or Inkatha or the National Party or the PAC and so on. Because in your area of rule, you'll find that your subjects belong to various organisations and even opposing organisations. Now if you are seen by your very own people that you are aligning yourself with one organisation, then the others will feel that you are abandoning them. So, that's why that is one of the other reasons we decided to form an organisation of our own, so that we can express our own political views in an organisation that is above party politics. But, I'm saying at these meetings you cannot say traditional leaders must be above politics.

POM     Sorry, you can't?

PH     You cannot say traditional leaders must be above politics, but they should be above party politics. This is based on the fact that when colonialists came into the country and took over the country and the government the country, the land was in the hands of traditional leaders and government was in the hands of traditional leaders and that is politics. And what needs to be done now is to ensure that while people who are supposed to form government now in a united South Africa, democratic South Africa, should be people who have been democratically elected, at the same time there are millions of our people who believe in the institution of traditional leadership. And as such, we say the constitution should make provision for a role to be played by traditional leaders at the local level, regional level and national level of government. Yet at the local level of government already we are very much involved in all three arms of government. That is, legislature, the executive and the judiciary in the sense that when laws are to be made concerning a given community, where there's a traditional leader, a traditional leader is the person who is expected to convene a gathering of a community so that the issues can be discussed and decisions taken. So, in a way that is a form of a legislative role that traditional leaders and their communities are playing. At the same time the administration of the affairs of the community is in the hands of the traditional leader, and thirdly, cases that fall within the jurisdiction of the traditional leader are heard, are presided over by the traditional leader. Now, one might find this to be offending the principle of the separation of powers as you have in the constitution of the United States of America, but in each of these categories the traditional leader doesn't act alone, he acts in council. There are tried and tested members of the community who sit in council with the traditional leader, who listen to what the people have to say and advise the traditional leader accordingly.

POM     That's kind of a consensus decision-making?

PH     That's right. So in all three arms, even when cases are being heard, the traditional leader sits together with counsellors. And then all that he has to do is, at the end of the proceedings, to summarise the proceedings and to give the verdict of the gathering as a whole. So, at the regional level we understand that there's going to be legislative assemblies established in all the regions that are going to be formed, in terms of the new constitutions. And we say then there should be an elected House of Assembly. At the same time we say traditional leaders should have the power to review the laws that emanate from the elected legislative assembly. This is because on matters like communal land, and customs and traditions where laws are going to affect those, then it is the traditional leaders who'll be custodians of communal land. And as custodians of our traditions and customs, they are the people who are in a position to determine as to whether or not the laws that emanate from that legislative assembly are not going to unduly trample upon the interests of the people in regard to those issues. So, we are advocating for something like a House of Lords which can help.

POM     A house of?

PH     Something similar to the House of Lords that they have in Britain. But, of course, it is going to be a House of Chiefs or House of Traditional Leaders, here in South Africa. That is the proposition we are making also for the national level of government. That is at national level as well, above the national parliament, there should also be a House of Traditional Leaders.

POM     Did the membership of Contralesa come from across the political spectrum like the PAC, ANC, AZAPO?

PH     Yes, it does. But of course in my observation you find that the majority of traditional leaders seem to be sympathetic towards the ANC, more than the other organisations. But as I say, even our constitution says that as an organisation we do not want to align ourselves to one specific organisation to the exclusion of the others. But because we are also committed to the struggle for the attainment of true liberation, we as an organisation, to support and participate in programmes of action that we see as an organisation, in programmes of action by other organisations, political organisations which we see to be promoting and desiring to achieve the aims that we ourselves have set out to achieve. So then now, because the ANC is the most active organisation in the liberation side of the political structure, you will find that most of the time we tend to be involved in activities more of the ANC than of any other organisations. But we expect that all our members should be free to join political organisations of their choice.

POM     You are asking for a structure of government that will in fact combine modern with the traditional?

PH     That's right.

POM     Would the people respect that?

PH     You see, the other reason is that we learnt from the experiences of the newly independent neighbouring states, like Mozambique and Angola and the liberation movements in those countries ousted their colonial masters. They made the mistake of saying just because traditional leaders had been collaborating with the system of deciding to want to abolish the institution of traditional leaders, now when reactionary forces like Renamo and Unita decided to resist the government and the liberation movements like Frelimo and the MPLA, they enlisted the support of traditional leaders in traditional communities because the traditional leaders were disgruntled with the way they were being treated by the new governments. And as such, they were easy prey to those who are opponents of the new government, and that's why now you find all the howling that has been wreaked upon the people these two territories.

POM     Now you have a seat at the Negotiating Council?

PH     Yes, traditional leaders are represented now.

POM     Is it the one represented at CODESA?

PH     I don't know what the name of that structure is.

POM     No, the last one I'm talking about, the one that collapsed last year at CODESA.

PH     No, we were not represented at CODESA.

POM     You had to fight to get representation?

PH     We had to fight to get representation.

POM     Who were then the people who were against you getting a seat?

PH     Sad to say, the ANC was also not in favour.

POM     The ANC wasn't?

PH     It wasn't much in favour of our participation at CODESA; also the government was not in favour. The reason why the ANC was not enthusiastic about the participation of traditional leaders was because of the fact that Inkatha and the government were insisting that only the King of the Zulus should participate in the talks and that the others it was not necessary for them to come and have a seat. So because they feared now this demand by Inkatha, they acceded. So they decided just to be negative throughout about traditional leaders. But I think later on reason prevailed and they realised that was a mistake they've made.

POM     One of the things that struck me about South Africa is that people about to have their first vote in the country, that the ANC comes now from a more common pattern and sophisticated background and they see traditional chiefs and the like as being kind of dragging on, pulling South Africa back from the 21st century.

PH     I think your observation is correct in that the tendency now within the movement, especially after it was unbanned, was for the leadership to concentrate in the urban areas, particularly in Johannesburg. And they tend to see things in the eyes of people living within the western environment that you find in the metropolitan areas. And they are forgetting that the majority of the people, as you say, are still living according to their traditional ways and they are in the rural areas. And in the rural areas, in spite of what has happened to the institution of traditional leadership, a great majority of them still respect traditional leaders and they are still proud of the institution, because it is one of those things which symbolise our Africanness. You see, some people, of course, want non-racialism but it doesn't mean non-racialism must be attained at the expense of our own identities.

     So, there's also some kind of confusion on the part of the leadership of the ANC concerning traditional leadership and democracy. They seem to think that because traditional leaders were not elected, the institution is an undemocratic structure. But that is not the case because in our understanding, the reasoning the West demands that a leader be elected is because that's the only way you can confer legitimacy on the person who wants to lead. They've no other means of conferring legitimacy on the leader but within our communities we have a way of conferring legitimacy on a leader and that is by birth. You've got to come from a particular lineage for you to be considered a legitimate and authentic traditional leader. And it doesn't end there. The traditional leader, whenever he acts, as I say, he acts in council. He consults with his community. Whatever decision that is going to be binding on the community, it's supposed to be a decision that has been taken in consultation with the people or by the people themselves in these imbizos or traditional meetings. I'm talking about imbizo, imbizo is something totally different to the rallies that you see like in Durban, addressed by the King of the Zulus and Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and the one you saw at First National Bank Stadium. Those are rallies, because imbizo is supposed to listen first to what the people themselves have to say as their traditional leader before you even say your own piece. So, it's an adulteration of the concept of imbizo that you can see in the areas.

POM     What percentage of Africans do you think traditionally as a matter of fact ...

PH     It's difficult for me to say, in terms of figures and numbers. But I can say that in all ten homelands, that is where the majority of Africans have been concentrated, traditional leaders do have a lot of support. Because almost all areas in the homelands are under the jurisdiction of traditional leaders. It's only the cities where you have mayors and town councillors. But outside the towns in all these homelands, you find that traditional leaders are the people who preside over the affairs of the community.

POM     After CODESA the negotiating council agreed that decisions should be made only when there was sufficient consensus. And if CODESA will ease enough for just the government and its alliance, and the ANC and its alliance, so what the government means is you had to agree on something before there was sufficient consensus. Now you kind of have three groups, the government, ANC and COSAG. Do you think they have a legitimate point saying that as long as the government and the ANC agree on something that is sufficient consensus and their opinion doesn't count?

PH     Yes, they are abusing the goodwill of the people of South Africa, and particularly the ANC as the leader in the liberation movement.

POM     Sorry, the ANC is abusing the deal?

PH     No, no. The COSAG group. They are abusing the goodwill of the people. Because they were not even supposed to be there in the first place. The struggle is between the oppressed and those who are oppressing us. Now the oppressed are led by the ANC and the PAC, and the oppressors are led by the government. Now, the homeland structures, most of them, particularly those who resist change, are supposed in fact to have been on the other side together with the government and then the people represented by their national organisations were supposed to be this side of the table. Now, but because the people felt that everybody should be included in this process that's why there's a round table concept. The type of negotiation process that is going on is premised on a round table so that there can be sufficient consensus on the part of all participants. But the problem is that the logical outcome of any democracy talks is the elimination of those who exist purely because there's no democracy in the country. Now, the government is in control and the COSAG group and everybody else are paid by the present government, and as such if the government and the ANC are agreed on what is supposed to take place then that is what should be decisive. If there's agreement between the government and the ANC, then the COSAG should move forward. Now, because in any event there are two sides to this thing, COSAG is on the side of the government even if it wants to portray itself as not being on the side of the government. Because should the government say, "No, we are abandoning you, we are no longer going to fund you, Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, KwaZulu", then where will they end up? They'll end up nowhere because they exist purely because of the continuing existence of apartheid in the country. So they are just trying to hold the country to ransom merely because of their own personal interests. They do not at all represent the aspirations of the people even of those they claim to be representing. Because if you go, for instance, to their meetings or their so-called conferences, you find that only the leadership speaks there, and the people are merely expected to say "Yea, yea, yea".

POM     So, would you expect that in your parliament you'd have two houses, the upper and the lower, and that Contralesa will be represented in both?

PH     No, we don't really, as Contralesa, we don't really expect that. (This is a Chief from Engcobo, Chief Dalasile, he's also a member of Contralesa. He'll be able to correct me if I'm lying.) So, we are not against the concept of an elected government. We are in favour of that, in fact, that people who are going to make laws must be legitimate rulers of the country. And we can no longer say that now we should revert to the position where we were before the land was taken away from these people. That is where the land was governed by traditional leaders and their people. We accept that we have advanced to the stage where we are in a position, as South Africans, to adopt the Western system of government, having an elected parliament.

POM      Say there were 200 people in the lower chamber, if 180 were elected there'd be 20 seats set aside for traditional leaders?

PH     Yes, something like that. We are advancing two options. The first one is that regardless of the number of houses that constitute parliament, that is lower house and upper house, we still need to have a house of traditional leaders. Because in any event the Senate, if it is going to be called a Senate, is going to have review powers. But it is not going to necessarily review the laws in the same way that traditional leaders are expected to review those laws. So, we might even have a tricameral type of parliament, in the sense that there will be the lower house, Senate and the House of Traditional Leaders. Alternately, the other option is that in the upper house they can decide that there's going be this number people sitting in it but then decide to reserve a certain number of seats. But then that is not quite desirable because we do not expect traditional leaders to be seen to be partisan. Because once we sit together in the same house where there are people who have been elected on a party political basis, then it will mean that in the course of the deliberations we found ourselves taking sides with one or the other of the political parties, and so on. So we need to have a house of own so that we can as traditional leaders deliberate soberly, without any regard to the partisan aspiration of the followers or members of the given political party.

POM     So the idea would be that you would ensure that it did not contravene or be in contradiction to traditional culture, traditional law?

PH     As well as the question of communal lands.

POM     And as well as the question of communal land.

PH     There may be other issues that one might have to bear in mind as well.

POM     Then would you have a power to veto over that, or how would it work?

PH     Well, if you are given powers of review it means then that before you are given a decision you are sent, at least the Bill cannot be passed into law. What we have in mind is that a Bill will be taken up to the House of Traditional Leaders for their consideration. If they have some problems with that they can refer the Bill back. But if the elected representatives of the people believe that nonetheless, in spite of our objections, this is in the interests of the people of South Africa as a whole, and I don't think we'll be in a position to say no, no, no. Then it will have to be passed. But at least we'll have been given the benefit of looking into it and expressing our views on it.

POM     Is this the way the Negotiating Forum is set up? [Was it ... 1 to 10 as possible satisfy the "house" it was dealing with the draft constitution that was tabled last Monday.] On a scale of 1 - 10 how satisfied are you with the draft constitution that was tabled last Monday?

PH     We are not satisfied. Of course we are like everybody else, everybody is not satisfied with the constitution because first of all, it says it wants to usurp the functions and powers of an elected Constituent Assembly. Because those are the people who are supposed to have the final say in the drafting of a constitution. Now some of the parties it has there seem to be intent on drafting the constitution for the country when they haven't been given any mandate by the people of the country. Each and everyone of the parties there have mandates coming only from their own supporters and members, members of their own organisations. And as such they are not representative of the people of South Africa. So they are not in a position to have the final say. And secondly, we are not happy because this constitution left out traditional leaders. Because we've been saying now and again, that at all three levels of government a role for traditional leaders should be set aside. And the same way as I've indicated to you that at regional level we need to have a house for traditional leaders for that given region to elect from amongst themselves their own representatives to seats in that house. At the national level, at the same time, we expect that there should be provision for a House of Traditional Leaders, for traditional leaders on a national basis.

POM     Do you have any supporters among other organisations?

PH     Yes, according to reports I've been receiving, when this Bill on this draft was tabled traditional leaders spoke to the various organisations individually. And they all agreed that it was a mistake on the part of the drafters of this draft to exclude traditional leaders. And then, the matter was further discussed within the chamber and an instruction was given for the drafters to go back and re-draft the constitution with a role for traditional leaders being defined.

POM     So you're expecting the next draft that comes out there'll be certain provisions for the inclusion of the traditional leaders, for the houses both at the regional level and at the national level?

PH     Actually, I do have a copy of the draft's proposal that was given by traditional leaders.

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.