About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Nov 1993: Tutu, Desmond

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     I want to start with a quote which you said about 18 months ago and I asked you about it last year. It was in March 1991 you told your congregation in Cape Town that there was something, and I quote you: - "... desperately wrong with the black community. We are becoming brutalised and almost anaesthetised to accept what is totally unacceptable. Political groups in the black community are fighting for turf and they do not seem to know, or certainly some of their followers do not seem to know that a cardinal tenet of democracy is that people must be free to choose whom they want to support." This is a year later. Elections are due in five months. Could you put your statement into the context of the forthcoming elections?

DT     I believe that much of that still is true, that the culture of tolerance has yet to be established firmly in our country. It is taking a great deal longer but with regard to the other aspect of the violence, I have been looking at interesting statistics that except for two parts in the country, the East Rand and Natal, there has been a very significant drop in the casualties, fatalities and one is concerned about why it is still happening in those places. Perhaps you may want us to develop that?

POM     Why don't you develop it on why you think things remain like that, particularly on the East Rand?

DT     It is beginning to be more difficult for people actually to analyse the causes of that violence. I was chatting with Mr Mandela last week and he was saying just how complex the situation on the East Rand is. It is not easy to unravel all the threads that are involved there. But I would still say we are ill served by two institutions in our society. One, I think, is the media in the way that they have made out - if you are looking at the descriptions you would think that the whole country was up in flames. And the second is that we have a woefully, woefully inept security force, I mean the police, and I don't doubt that there are genuinely good police officers who want to be nothing but just good police officers who belong in a force that maintains order and enforces law and is a peacekeeping force. But there can't be smoke without fire. It can't be, if you will pardon the expression given what has been happening, it can't be that so many people, for instance, say that the internal security unit is an unsatisfactory police unit in the townships without there being at the very least a modicum of truth. If you have 3000 womenfolk go on a protest march to the World Trade Centre calling for the removal of this unit then you must say that it is more than just an effort by politicians to discredit the police. And I probably will have said this to you on one of our previous marathons that one has still to find an answer to why a police force that was so effective pre-1990 can now become so ineffective.

POM     I'd like you to go back for a moment to the question of tolerance which is a learned behaviour and there's five months in which a lot of people have to learn tolerance and I'd like you to relate that to the ANC and for that matter the PAC in particular being against white parties such as the NP or the DP trying to solicit votes in the townships. Sometimes they almost state their case as a moral case, your oppressor coming in who did you so much injury and wrong, saying how much good he's going to do for you if you now elect him back into his position of power.

DT     I again would say I hold no brief at all for any of those who hold that particular position and whatever justification - there might be something to be said for what they may mean emotionally to the black community but I would have thought that our cause, the cause of the black community in general is far better served by saying, well let them come in and let them be hoisted with their own petard, as it were. I don't hold with any view that they ought to be restricted. Let the people be the ones who deliver the verdict and if the people for some odd reason think that they are attracted by what is on offer by the Nationalists, OK, because that is what we have been striving for, saying that the people are the final arbiter and they must not be coerced into one or other direction. You are conceding that your case is not quite as strong as you might have thought it was if you say you don't really want competition and you are guilty really of using the methods which you decried in the past.

POM     To go back to the violence for a moment. You said that South Africans could no longer control the violence, that there should be some outside intervention. It seems to me from talking to people everywhere that on the one hand the ANC is not quite in control of its cadres or defence units within some of the townships, that Inkatha or Buthelezi is not in control of many of his warlords and that De Klerk has not got full control over elements in his own security force. Do you mean out of control in that sense?

DT     I don't think it needed a great deal of prescience to have been able to predict that. Without something like an UNTAG operation here we will be in trouble. Quite simply, apart from all the other complications, when you have had a culture in which the police were told, "These are enemies, they are terrorists and you can use virtually any methods to apprehend them and deal with them, no holds barred", and also you are used to carrying out laws that are unjust, I mean fundamentally unjust and you know that they are unjust, that must give you a particular mindset. You are brought up and you take in that ethos, it's being totally unrealistic to think that in a matter of months, even of years, a few years, that you can change that mindset. Now that is what in fact Mr de Klerk seems to have thought he could do. Whenever we spoke to him about alleged excesses by the police he would immediately come to their defence saying that he has called senior police officers and told them that it's a new dispensation, they have got to behave. Now I don't doubt that that is what he has done but what one is saying is that so far as we know only one has been able to say, "Let there be and there is", and that's God. De Klerk is not God. He can't hope to say to police who are behaving in a particular way, sanctioned by the government and the authorities who were knowingly using things like death squads. We're hearing of all the things that they were doing. They think that when he says, "Now look here guys we're going to be nice guys now", that they will become nice guys overnight and it would be difficult also to think that you could amalgamate just like that people who have over the years been adversaries, the hunter and the hunted ahead of the political dispensation for which they are preparing. I think it's actually been a crazy hope that they could in fact form a joint peace keeping force.

POM     What strikes me about that is that I've done quite an amount of work in Thokoza particularly among hostel dwellers.

DT     Hostel residents?

POM     Residents.

DT     They are very sensitive about the vocabulary that you use.

POM     In many respects they seem to be victims of sorts, they are always thought of as the 'bad guys' and we've had numerous stories recounted to us of there being attacks on their communities by Xhosa speaking people and they passionately believe that the ANC is out to create a one-party, Xhosa dominated state and to dominate the Zulus. When you listen to the detail with which they go into in their stories and the passion with which they tell them you have to believe them. Is there an unacknowledged part of this violence which has been insufficiently laid at the doorsteps of the ANC, which has been always quick to condemn the police or Inkatha but to show themselves off as the victim?

     When you look at a thing like the train massacres or the train attacks how does anyone say there that here we are seeing party strife being carried on because the people who come on those trains don't first of all say I'm Xhosa or Zulu or I'm Inkatha or ANC, they just shoot and kill and kill everybody in sight. Have they been able to identify that all the people who are killed are Zulu speaking or Xhosa speaking, that they are ANC or IFP? Which brings you back to the thing of the third force, that they hardly actually speak and many people, well some people have said, they don't speak because they can't speak local languages. They could very well be people who have been brought in. I don't know. But to go back to this other thing. It seems again that you are having a kind of stereotype. Supposing they have been killed by Xhosa speaking people, the question is: why do they make that out therefore to be ANC? Why? Take the PWV area, the chairperson of that? What race is he? What tribe is he? Tokyo? What did you say?

POM     I said he's Xhosa.

DT     Sexwale. No. He's not even Zulu, he's Pedi.

POM     I think the reason people drew this conclusion was that they would look at the ANC National Executive as it was a couple of years ago and point to Jacob Zuma as being the only Zulu on the National Executive, but I don't want to get tied down in that. I just have two other questions on the violence.

DT     You have a Venda Secretary/General, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is their main negotiator. Then they have Kader Asmal, an Indian.

POM     Valli Moosa.

DT     Yes. I don't know why, there are myths that are often useful myths that people like to use. Popo Molefe is one of the negotiators. Popo Molefe is a Tswana. Terror Lekota is a Sotho. I've already given you several instances that don't in fact justify the description that it has. It has a Xhosa President but then it had a Zulu President in Chief Luthuli, it had a Tswana President in Dr. Moroka.

POM     What I am getting at is the perceptions of these people, that all Xhosa speaking people support the ANC. It is so deeply embedded either by the propaganda thrown at them from Ulundi or they need to bind themselves together ideologically, that the perception which will outlast an election will be a cause of friction and continuing instability in the townships.

DT     I don't agree. I don't buy that particular one either because you see I live in a township when I am not here. I live in Soweto and in Soweto I keep trying to say to people my house is at a corner, next door there is a Xhosa family, across there is a Zulu family and the next is a Zulu family. A Zulu family on this side of the street. Next to them are Tswanas, Sotho over there. We've lived like that despite the government's efforts at intensifying tribalism. I once said at a meeting in New York, my mother was a Tswana and my father was a Fingo and I said what does that make me? Harry Belafonte was sitting near the back of the meeting and he said, "That makes you a Zulu!" But the fact of the matter is that in the townships, in all of our townships, the mix is one that makes Babel a sort of Sunday school picnic.

     Yes, there has been tension between the hostel dwellers and the township dwellers, or residents. But there is a long history and the people who live in the hostels are not all Zulus. It's all migrant workers and the Zulus can't claim that they are the only migrant workers. There are Tswana, Sotho, Xhosa, you name it, Pondos, who were living in the hostels. I do not myself think that you will necessarily where you have that conflict continuing, because again these statistics that I am referring to indicate that peace initiatives have been taken that have actually brought about a very considerable degree of peace in areas, Sebokeng in the Vaal Triangle, I mean areas that were very, very, very volatile, that quite extraordinarily they have succeeded.

     The re-ignition of major violence in the East Rand sub-region of the PWV since July, the remarkable degree of calm that has descended upon all other sub-regions of the PWV, some of them with high levels of political violence. Soweto, deaths in 1992 - 427; deaths in 1993 (ten months) - 79; Vaal - 379 in 1992; the ten months up to now - 140; Alexandra - 229, gone down to 24; West Rand, Johannesburg - 101/48. It in fact is indicative of the fact that it can happen, the peace can come if it has come to places of this sort. East Rand deaths have been 1318 up till now, PWV deaths - 331. It says: "The question remains as to why the outstanding success in all of these sub-regions cannot be repeated in the violence-torn sub-region of the East Rand where currently 90% of PWV deaths are occurring and more specifically in Katlehong / Thokoza. Precisely the same initiatives which have brought relative peace and harmony to the residents of Soweto, Alexandra and even the Vaal are capable of doing the same in the townships of the East Rand."

POM     Mr Mandela said at the weekend that there will not be room in the new government for F W de Klerk because he didn't care about the black lives, do you think that is mere electioneering and if so does it border on the inflammatory?

DT     If I was being nasty I would say go and ask him. He has said subsequently, according to reports, that the position is if his party gets 5%, but I have to say that he is actually very angry. I spoke with him last week Wednesday, he is actually somebody who controls his feelings very well because somebody said that he was being interviewed in the Transkei by someone who when he was called out and he returned and continued the interview, when he was called out he was told that Chris Hani had been assassinated and yet he was able to keep his cool in an almost unnatural way. But there are things about which he does feel very deeply. One is, he says they warned the government on a number of occasions about attacks that were going to happen and nothing has been done to pre-empt those attacks and they have happened. He has also said that they were suggesting strategies with regard to the violence that is taking place, at least policing in the townships with black officers who may have a different relationship to the community than the ISU made up of largely white personnel. That has not happened. He feels too that in any other country the head of state would have been expressing concern and sympathy over the Umtata raid. He thinks, and I agree with him, that De Klerk could have diffused that particular thing by just a simple, "I'm sorry, a mistake was made", but he has not up to now expressed any condolence to the parents of those young people who were killed.

POM     What do you think accounts for his - up until March of 1992 when he rode his referendum to victory he seemed to have a high degree of acceptance in the black community and many Africans I would talk to would refer to 'Comrade de Klerk'. No-one does that today. Was that insensitivity ingrained or has De Klerk himself moved as his power base slowly erodes?

DT     I wish I knew. All I know is that all politicians are in the business of trying to gain political power and when they have gained that power, to retain it for as long as they can possibly can. And it may be that having started out first with the hope that an NP/IFP alliance could stop the ANC and then finding that that was probably not going to happen, changing tack and changing horses midstream as it were and seeking some kind of accommodation with the ANC alienating IFP, discovering that this has alienated and eroded his support base in the white community, he could very well have been trying to woo some right wing whites by what they call 'kragdadigheid' in the Umtata raid.

POM     Does the ANC need a strong NP that can deliver its community or is that becoming increasingly irrelevant?

DT     I would have hoped that they could stand on their own and let the people actually decide what they actually believe is in the best interests of this country and who are likely to guarantee them stability and continued prosperity. I don't know that the NP have a very large constituency, their own surveys seem to indicate that it's eroding fairly rapidly. I spoke with Leon Wessels soon after the raid and I asked him, "How could you do something so stupid?" Apart from it being reckless and, if you will pardon the expression, shooting yourself in both feet. It was very clear that he was embarrassed but as a Cabinet minister he had to accept, I suppose, the principle of collective responsibility.

POM     Let's look at Chris Hani for a minute. Here appeared to be a politician who gave up the opportunity to have perhaps more power by staying with the ANC, staying head of uMkhonto becoming one of the possible successors to Nelson Mandela, by taking over the position as General Secretary of the SACP which has no more than 13,000 members, what impact do you think his death had on the political process in the country itself and what did it reveal about the two communities?

DT     Well we have been as near to the blood bath as we ever would hope to be when he was assassinated and I myself believe that it was an incredible miracle that we pulled back from that precipice. It's a loss that we are going to take a very long time recovering from. As to his own motives, he was a remarkable person. I was very, very fond of him. I have my own pet theory which is that there are very, very few Africans who can in fact be communists. I said that to President Chisano when they still claimed to have a Marxist government and I said that to President dos Santos, I asked them, "You say you are Marxist, could you kindly tell me how many out and out Marxists you have in Frelimo?" And Chisano said, "Well if there were no Christians there would be no Frelimo." And much the same answer was given about MPLA in Angola.

     My position is that it isn't anything that we can boast about but in fact Africans cannot be materialistic if you're using that in a philosophical sense like the dialectal materialism of Marxism that we have a particular world view which is a two world view, like you have the material world accessible to the sense it's phenomenal, but behind informing it is the spirit world and most Africans take that in with their mother's milk and very few of them could ever be people who did not believe in some spirit world and the materialism of communism, and especially one that is also atheistic, is unable in my view to satisfy the deep longings of the African psyche. That is what I think.

     Now Chris Hani, we were standing together after the Bisho massacre where I had spoken to those who have been there in that region as it were and we started singing the famous Xhosa hymn and he sang all the verses off by heart and I turned to him and said, "How can a communist like you sing this Christian hymn with such gusto?" And he guffawed. I don't know why he chose to take on the Secretary Generalship of the Communist Party except that one can say that for many an African the first white people who treated them as if they were human beings were communists, which is a horrible indictment of our fellow Christians and the attraction, the glamour of being communists allied to the fact that anyone who opposed apartheid ended up being called a communist whether they were Christian or not. It was guaranteed to make people say, "Well if you are a communist you are ipso facto opposed to this ghastly thing". And maybe some of the things that people thought communists were saying about equality and position ...

POM     What about Buthelezi?

DT     He's an Anglican.

POM     One of yours?

DT     Yes. As is Makwetu. I told him, I said I think maybe I should exercise my right as an Archbishop and excommunicate him! No.

POM     He sits up there in Ulundi making increasingly strident statements, saying that under no circumstances would he be part of the process and under no circumstances would the Zulu nation accept any agreement or constitution foisted on them and to which they were not part. Do you think he and the right wing, which seems to have resuscitated itself from the debacle it underwent in March of 1992, do you think either or both in combination pose a severe problem in terms of the kind of stability that might exist in a future South Africa?

DT     The right wing imposes a serious threat, yes. They must have support in the police, they must have support in the security forces and those are people who are armed, those are people who are very skilled in the use of those arms and so it is very possible that we could face a very serious problem if there was to be disaffection in the army. And the fact that retired heads of the Defence Force are now part of this right wing reinforces the view that people have always held, that you can't trust the security forces of this country. They were there in order to impose unjust laws, they were part of the repression and they cannot be trusted. Some people are saying that the Freedom Alliance is unhappy with Constand Viljoen. I don't know. And others are saying he has tended to be perhaps more reasonable than the others which is why they were not wanting him at a particular meeting, he pitched up and they were rather embarrassed by his presence and didn't refer to him at all at that particular meeting. I don't know whether it was a bilateral with the government or so. They are a real threat, yes.

POM     I know De Klerk made an analogy with the right wing and the IRA in Northern Ireland and the reality in Northern Ireland is that the IRA has no more than 50 operatives, maybe a support base around that of 500 people, and they can tie down 30,000 British troops into the suspension of all civil rights laws, special security measures of detention and whatever. Is there any real fear that this country could come into existence and because of the possibility of a prevalence of instability coming from the right that a state of emergency would have to be declared and the constitution suspended?

DT     That is possible. Yes it is possible if we were appearing to be slipping into a chaotic situation that the government of the day might be forced to take draconian measures. One hopes that that would not be necessary, that the fact that a right wing operation would ultimately not produce a viable result. Supposing they took over the government, while one hopes that the international community would make it quite clear that they were not going to be dealing with them and that they were not a viable possibility, but they certainly can gum up the works quite effectively, yes.

POM     Cyril Ramaphosa said in an interview that the effectiveness of joint control of the security forces is going to be the litmus test of the transition. Yet if you took security into the restructuring of the security forces it seems to always have been shoved aside through the negotiations and not dealt with very adequately at all.

DT     There's no way in which they could, I don't think they could. How many months have we got for the run-up to the election? They are still quarrelling about whether certain formations may contribute members to this peacekeeping force, who is going to be in charge of it. We've got four or five months before this election happens and we've not yet got one of the most crucial elements, one that is going to ensure that there is peace and stability. We live in hope.

POM     To back to our friend Gatsha Buthelezi.

DT     Oh I thought we had finished with him.

POM     We had in one sense, but is he a bluffer or does he have a capacity so that the country will become unstable in its transition phase? Must he be accommodated?

DT     Yes. Yes and no. It depends on just how well armed the KwaZulu Police may be. It's easy, as you've indicated, to be a disruptive force. But on the other hand it is also easy, given the fact that the base is KwaZulu, certainly from a lay person's point of view, to put a ring of steel around KwaZulu and ensure that very little passes through of those who might want to cause mayhem. But it is possible to cause, certainly initially, a great deal of instability. One hopes that they will see that in the long run they have no hope. They might to be able to do something, and that goes also for the right wing, the Freedom Alliance. I don't think that ultimately they think they stand a chance, Gqozo and Mangope. In some ways actually some people have said it is Chief Buthelezi who really is giving that Freedom Alliance some credibility, that without him, and therefore without perhaps Gqozo, it would be a racist thing. It would be the Conservative Party and the AWB who do not want a democratic dispensation who have now been given an aura of respectability and their racist demands have been somewhat ameliorated by their being associated with these people. But I mean everybody has pointed out the total incongruity of these people being bedfellows.

POM     If the level of violence continues as it is in Natal/KwaZulu and on the East Rand, do you think you could have free and fair elections or that elections must be held regardless?

DT     If the elections are postponed all hell will be let loose. Those elections must happen. Too many people have invested in them and invested in a lot of hope. It brings us back to the whole question of a credible peacekeeping, law enforcing establishment. I really do not think that the resources that the police and the army have could not, if the will was there, end that violence because one of the simple things which even the Goldstone Commission recommended long ago, to secure the hostels for the sake of the hostel residents as much as for the sake of township dwellers, because if you have a police presence round the hostels the township dwellers cannot attack these guys and they also would not be able to attack. It is intolerable that you can have no-go areas declared by people, ANC, Inkatha and the police claim to be impotent to clear those areas and make them open areas. It is totally intolerable that people can be hounded out of their houses and the police are around and somebody else comes and lives in your house because you have had to move, to run off and become a refugee elsewhere.

     It doesn't happen anywhere else in the world and these are police who used to tell us that they are doing what they are doing, stopping our funerals in order to maintain law and order. They could tell you, I mean they could tell you anything. They could tell you where you had been when you were in Jerusalem, they would tell you that on such and such a day in Jerusalem you met so and so and you said such and such. Now today they are unable to make out that these guys are likely to attack over there and prevent that attack. They were able to arrest people who were infiltrating this country secretly. Today they cannot arrest people walking around with AK47s. It makes it a little bit of a stretching of credibility, just beyond ...

POM     Two last questions, and thank you enormously for the full time that you've given. One relates to the question of amnesty. At one level it seems that the government and ANC cut a deal and the deal is to say, let's just proceed and there will be no revelations and no digging into the past. Do you think that is purely an expedient of them dealing with some of the sins in both of their pasts? The second question relates to the files the security forces have held on people, much like what was in East Germany and also in Czechoslovakia, which gave rise to great divisions. It seemed to go more against the grain of reconciliation, but at what point must things be left to be so that the nation as a whole go forward?

DT     A past that is not acknowledged is a past you cannot forgive and a past that is unforgiven is going to return to haunt you. You can't deal with that sort of past by saying let bygones be bygones. They will never be bygones. You have to decide to whom the disclosures have got to be made, but full disclosures are going to have to be made and you may have to determine that there are certain things that cannot just be covered by an amnesty. People may have to be brought to court, that the things they have done are just so horrendous. The moral sensibility of society has been very, very seriously affected. I would say that we cannot close a bad past just like that.

POM     Do you think the white community has any real understanding of the enormous injury and injustice that apartheid did?

DT     You're asking a third question. You said you were asking two. About files, it depends again. I would prefer maybe that they should burn them and let us forget about it.

POM     Very much in the vein of let bygones be bygones.

DT     In the matter of files, where you reveal that so and so was an informer ten years ago, what does he do to rehabilitate himself? Because it's just a ghastly thing. If, of course, you will say what did it lead to, this is just my gut level thing, I will say close that and burn them, get rid of them.

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.