This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
12 Mar 1996: De Tolly, Jenny
POM. Jenny, just a general question first, what would you say was the biggest political story of 1995?
JDT. That's an awful thing to throw at me right now because 1995 condensed so much in my life that in a lot of ways the political happenings outside have become, yes, almost outside. When I last saw you we had taken the decision to recommend that the Black Sash was going to close down its voluntary membership. That was in February, end of February. We had to go through quite a long process of sorting through with the organisation what that meant, and a lot of pain. It was actually an excruciating period to summarily close down a 40 year old organisation. We had to go through a national conference which would carry that. We then had to start the process of professionalising an organisation that for 40 years had been run by volunteers. I also took this job in June and I found that question hard because for me one of the things that has started to happen is that in some ways I have started to walk away from the details of politics and I think that the unpacking of that is quite interesting because I think in a lot of ways the important role that one could play in the late eighties and part of the nineties as a white, liberal, one knew then that one's role was going to change and once national politics and the election had happened and one had played one's role in that I think an awful lot of people, like me for instance, have gone to the kind of organisation that I've gone to now which is about making things happen on the ground.
POM. This is called the ...?
JDT. It's called The Fairest Cape Association, which is somewhat of a misnomer because what we are is an environmental organisation that focuses on the issues of waste and how it impacts on people.
JDT. Waste. Our main focus is on integrated waste management and in particular on how waste should be seen as a resource and can help to create jobs. So it's very kind of grassroots, feet on the ground, helping communities and schools living in very degraded environments not only to understand the waste issue in a more holistic sense but also to try and do something about it. So for me it's been a time of a huge amount of change. I'm still involved in the Black Sash, I'm a trustee and I play as active a role as I can in helping the organisation into this next phase so I give voluntary time to that, but I think it has been fascinating for people whose role was maybe more important when liberation movements were silenced etc., etc., to start to move into a very different and new phase.
POM. Did they find in a sense that it was time for them to move over and make room for Africans?
JDT. I think that's part of it, yes I think that is a part of it. It's also a time in which there is a huge amount of politicking and the political field is wide open now, well I mean it's not wide open but the political players are from all of the groupings within the population, so the sort of role that one was playing in maybe giving a voice and an expression to the voiceless that has fundamentally changed. That's what one was fighting for, that's what one was really struggling for. So in a lot of ways that role has been quite a relief to relinquish some of it.
POM. Did some people find it difficult to relinquish that role? It became a role to which they became accustomed, that provided some status and all of a sudden one was being ...
JDT. It might have been for some. I found it a huge relief. Just one extremely silly example, I used to collect all the newspapers and do clippings. I don't bother, I chuck them out, I recycle them now like a normal human being. My house was almost a fire hazard at one stage with these piles of newspapers waiting to be clipped or these piles of clippings waiting to be sorted.
POM. I know, I've seen you now for seven years.
JDT. It's actually quite a relief just to be an ordinary recycler now. Obviously through this organisation I'm clipping on different issues. One is also looking at different ways of communicating, one is also not just looking at newspapers as a source of - it's a source of a particular form of information. I found it quite interesting there was an article on Zwelake Sisulu and questioning whether he was going to stay in the SABC, I think it was that profile that Mark Gevisser does in the Mail & Guardian, and he was commenting that he thought that Zwelake Sisulu would go back to the newspaper world because he still saw it as the place for intellectual debate on issues. And I found that quite interesting because one has tended to say, well let's forget about newspapers because such a small percentage of the population in South Africa's case read it, but I found that quite an interesting comment because I think they still do hold a certain power because I think they are possibly read by opinion makers. So what I am saying is I can't throw them all away.
POM. One thing I've noticed especially in the last few years is that there is a tendency on the part of the ANC to blame the media for either accentuating the negative or running them down or not giving them credit for what's been accomplished and this is attributed to elements of white racism existing within the media. Do you think that's a fair commentary?
JDT. I don't think it's a fair commentary. I don't think our newspapers are particularly good here but I do think - first of all let's separate out the issues because I think that the cause of white racism, let's deal with that quite separately, let's look at whether the media is playing a negative role and not giving enough credit. I wouldn't say that's entirely fair because I think that there's actually quite a lot of positive reinforcement for the government and the things that they do. I think the fact that they call the government to account is what they should be doing and I think the fact that some elements within the government, because I don't think it's all of them, can't handle that criticism is quite a lot to do with our history of loyalty to people in the cause and I think it's absolute damn nonsense because I think that the newspaper's role is to call government to account. I don't think that we do enough of it and I think that sometimes it's not carefully enough done and it's sensationalised because I think that journalism here is pretty bad.
POM. Journalism here is ...?
JDT. I don't think that they are analytical enough. I don't think that they spend quite enough time on trying to root out issues. I think the incidents around this whole health debacle are what they should be doing. I think R14 million on an AIDS production like that is absolutely outrageous and the AIDS workers that I have spoken to, like ones in KwaZulu/Natal where they've got programmes going on the ground, where they have had to stop some of those programmes for lack of money, when they see Ngema getting that sort of level of money from the same budget that they would like to have kept some very real working going on the ground, they are damned angry. Which leads me to the whole issue of racism. I find it really quite depressing when elements within the government cite racism. I think it's a cop out, I think it's a cheap cop out frankly. I think it's when they are not looking carefully enough at what is happening. It actually makes me very sad and quite angry because I think it's a cheap trick and it's one that I find does get pulled when people are in a tight corner and when they can't logically argue their way out of it. I think race is a cheap trick that can be used, a cheap emotional trick that can be used.
POM. The all-encompassing fall-back position.
JDT. Absolutely. To me it's a sign of pure weakness when it's used and for me it's usually much more revealing of the person who made the statement than of the case they are trying to cite. Now I'm being quite hard on it but I get quite distressed when it happens because I think you should actually try and address the issue.
POM. IDASA did a poll that received a lot of attention, at least from the ANC, and that was that people thought that the current government was more corrupt than the previous government. Do you recall that poll? The ANC responded by saying that was because of the notions implanted by the media regarding the gravy train and things like that. What do you think accounted for people's perceptions that this government was or is more corrupt than the previous government?
JDT. One of the things that I haven't done much careful looking at is just how that IDASA poll was structured. I am deeply suspicious of polls because I don't know how the questions were framed, I don't know what kind of sampling they used. If I can think of notions of why, I am surprised frankly because I think the previous lot were so damn rotten that almost anything is better than them.
POM. A majority of Africans actually believes that ...
JDT. That the current government is more corrupt?
POM. Than a government that had systematically ...
JDT. I didn't find it very plausible and that's why I'm saying I would like to see the way that thing was structured and the framing of those questions. I don't believe that Africans believe that frankly. And if they do I'd really like to try and understand why because maybe it's got something to do with the suspicion that all of a sudden there are people who have a lot more affluence around them, but, come on, I don't believe that poll, I really don't. I suppose I didn't take it that seriously so I didn't see it as a massive slight on the government, I saw it as sloppy poll-making.
POM. Good, I'll tell ...
JDT. Maybe that's because my perception is very hard to shift and I just believe that the other lot were breathtakingly corrupt.
POM. Do you think the ANC is by and large getting its way in the Constituent Assembly and that it's now using the threat of elections and a referendum where it would only take 60% of the electorate to endorse whatever draft exists on the 8th or 9th May?
JDT. I think really my opinion would be so ignorant because I have focused so little on this process that I think I would be sucking my thumb, which is a very bad thing for me to say as a Black Sash trustee.
POM. It's extraordinary if you don't mind my saying so.
JDT. It is extraordinary, it is very extraordinary.
POM. So what's that a measure of in, like the change in you, that your entire life has been devoted to the securing of the constitutional rights of the people and now its down to the final securing of those rights in a format that is going to be permanent and define the future of the country and in a certain sense you've lost interest?
JDT. Yes it is. I suppose it's an acceptance, I wouldn't say of defeat because that's not what it is, of the power of majoritarianism at this point in our history and maybe that is a form of defeat.
POM. So when you say defeat do you mean defeat in the sense that the majority are ...?
JDT. The majority are so powerful that one - I suppose I'm talking in a very individual sense.
POM. That's fine.
JDT. Because I know that, for instance, the Black Sash continues to do its work on the constitution, they have narrowed their focus, they did a very successful workshop about a week and a half ago with a lot of legislators on the clause around administrative justice because that's where a lot of our focus is going to go for the time ahead, and they are doing a very competent job. I suppose what I'm saying is that I took a very radical decision last June and I entered a whole world that has nothing to do with the things that I had worked on for all that time and that it has taken all my energy just to try and survive in this one so I have left it to those who I know are doing it within the Black Sash.
POM. Administrative justice is one of the areas in which the ANC has backed away from its - it was very high on its agenda at one point. In fact all their people have been at the receiving end of administrative injustice for 40 years and suddenly ...
JDT. That's right. Well the Sash tried to put in as strong a clause as it could in terms of administrative justice. It seems that the committee had been quite a lot at loggerheads and that this particular seminar which included people from all of the political parties seems to have bought the clause that this group re-wrote in the seminar and it will be interesting to see if it's going to actually go through.
POM. What do you think accounts for, the ANC as far as I can judge and I must say I was remiss this morning I didn't ask Dullah Omar, it was on my question list but somehow I missed it, say that it would cause immense bureaucratic administrative work in terms of keeping records of everything, that everybody could take an action against the government with regard to ...
JDT. What a weak excuse. I find that quite sad because in a way it was fairly widely recognised that the old bureaucrats could be the biggest obstacle to transition in this country. I think poorly trained new bureaucrats and unaccountable new bureaucrats could well just perpetuate the problem. I realise they have huge logistical problems in getting this bureaucracy operative but I don't see why they shouldn't have standards that should be adhered to. Because you can make all the beautiful laws you want but if the administrative practice is not in place those laws are absolutely useless. Certainly that's what happened here before, is that quite a lot of the laws that we were dealing with, for instance in relation to welfare issues like pensions, were not all that bad, it's just that they were being applied so unjustly that they had become absolutely meaningless. So I personally wouldn't buy it.
POM. So at the Sash seminar what was the ANC's justification for it's decreased emphasis on the importance of administrative ...?
JDT. I'm afraid I really don't know. I only got a very brief report-back on it and it was the Friday before last so I would really need to follow that up to find it out for you.
POM. Last week, I think I know what your answer is but I'll ask the question anyway, the ANC and the NP announced they had reached agreement on what they called 'co-operative governance'. Have you any idea what that is?
JDT. Co-operative governance?
POM. Instead of there being a government of national unity it would be co-operative governance.
JDT. Rhubarb, rhubarb. I don't know what they're talking about, do you?
POM. No, that's why I was asking you.
JDT. Real rhubarb, rhubarb that one.
POM. Let me just turn for a minute to the cases of the Truth Commission for one. Do you think it's going to achieve its purpose or that it's going to ultimately serve as an instrument of polarisation and by that I mean that the National Party or the white community as a whole, and I know I'm generalising, believe it's going to be a witch-hunt, believe that Nats are going to be either hauled before this or go before it under duress or coerced or prosecuted or whatever and that in a way blacks are getting revenge?
JDT. Look, within the groupings of people that I mix with, and I suppose reading the press that I read, I don't believe that that's the perception but as I have explained to you before I move in somewhat rarefied circles. It's changed since I came here which has been quite a shock, but certainly I would say with most of the people that I know there is a feeling that there is so much there that a lot of whites, for instance, didn't know was happening and a lot of my types of friends, the ones who are less politicised than I was, actually want that stuff out. They don't feel that it should be hidden. They feel very ashamed of a lot of it so I am saying that I don't know those people who see it as a witch-hunt and I hope that it will provide some kind of catharsis, but then as you most likely know from our previous talks I've been very pro to some reconciliation, pro a truth and reconciliation process based on quite a lot of reading that I had done over time and knowing some of the people who had experienced deaths in their families, like Mrs Goniwe for whom a process of healing is very, very necessary and knowing the truth about what happened to her husband is very, very necessary. And if it's possible, as she has said, she would like to be able to see that person or those people and for them to say they are sorry. It just seems to be very, very important to her. And I suppose those things are quite powerful when you know people who that's happened to and when being a member of the Sash who knew quite a few people that that happened to.
POM. Dullah Omar this morning, even though he says there is no moral equivalence between the actions of the apartheid security forces and the actions of those fighting to end apartheid, he is at pains to point out that this was a negotiated settlement and part of the negotiated settlement was an interim constitution which provided for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission to be worked out according to certain agreed upon rules and one of those rules was that your action would qualify for amnesty if it could be shown that your action fell within the parameters of the political objectives of your party, so that if you committed an action that was to maintain apartheid, well that was the political objective of the National Party. That's almost like saying ...
JDT. You can kill for those objectives?
POM. Well that's what it says. Using the same criterion it would say that if you had been a war criminal in Germany you could have said well the political objective was to eliminate all the Jews and so all of my actions must be seen in the context of the political objective of my party, therefore I am ready for amnesty. It seems to be it gives grounds for distortions of values that all things get thrown into the same pot. Do you think there's a danger of that?
JDT. Do you know what I have a lot of faith in, and I suppose this is also again a very personal thing, is I think that the sort of people that they have put together in terms of those commissioners are the sorts of people who will find the right stance for that, for that process. I think that they are people who have that capacity to find justice and healing out of the process. Maybe I'm placing rather too much on their shoulders but I think that they know they have an incredible task. Actually I feel quite trusting of them and I hope that they will be given sufficient clout that the process will be able to have some kind of both healing and sense of justice to it. And maybe I'm being very starry-eyed about it but I don't know, there were just so many acts on both sides that were just so damn brutal that we've got to talk about them.
POM. For example, would you make a distinction between Robert McBride and say Dirk Coetzee who was the star witness at the De Kock trial who has admitted to 27 crimes. He was head of the Vlakplas Unit before De Kock and he is now employed with the National Intelligence Agency.
JDT. It makes me sick but I have a problem with Robert McBride. I don't believe his crime is on the scale of Dirk Coetzee, I don't believe that they were committed in quite the same frame of mind, but I really do have a problem with somebody who blows up civilians. I look forward to seeing what the Truth Commission is going to do about it although he has been given amnesty. I have a problem with it.
POM. And with Coetzee? Should he even be hired by ...?
JDT. I actually don't believe that people who have committed those kind of crimes should be in any kind of high office or hold positions of influence or positions that could potentially have influence on other people's lives.
POM. What if in the Magnus Malan case Buthelezi were further implicated to the point of where a possible indictment could be considered? Do you think that in the interests of stability, of keeping a lid on violence, of perhaps precluding a civil war in Natal he should be left alone or that he should, if the evidence is there, he should be indicted along with the rest?
JDT. You ask horrible questions. I would ask the question, would Buthelezi's indictment lead to further instability, because I am not sure about that question. I am not sure what continues to perpetuate the levels of violence in Natal. One of the discussions that I was party to at a conference overseas was: What can stop this spiral of violence in Natal? To me one of the answers that was given had resonated quite a lot and that was that there were no rewards for peace in Natal. Very little real development was happening, people were not being rewarded for peace, the spoils of war were too high.
POM. You were saying that they are not being rewarded for peace, you mean ...?
JDT. Through development. I mean there are still areas of Natal - somebody was quoting to me that 2 kms off the main road down the coast of Natal where there are areas that had been settled for many years but still did not have any water taps. I just think that you can continue to foment a lot of instability when communities have none of the basic things like water where even access to that land is constantly under threat. I find the whole Natal issue very complex and I really wonder whether Buthelezi is so key to it. Would his indictment really further the violence? I don't know if it would. So I am afraid it's one of those imponderables. I certainly don't believe that anybody should be left without, if they are implicated in these things I believe that process has to be followed. Why Buthelezi?
POM. Well the same would apply to De Klerk.
JDT. Absolutely, to every one of them. I thought that was part of what this process was about, it was about knowing what happened.
POM. What if General Malan and his co-accused get acquitted? What message does that send?
JDT. Well it will send a couple of messages from my perspective. One would be that it would have been a very poorly put together case, that the prosecution had not done its job. It might also send a message that the politicians have backed off, although the politicians aren't supposed to affect the judges.
POM. Among blacks what kind of message do you think it would send?
JDT. It would exonerate what was done and I think that that would be very, very negative. One of the things that one would need to look at is what does happen if they get found guilty of these things? What sort of punishment, what would happen? I think they've got to be found guilty but they could be given amnesty in the name of peace.
POM. You think they have to be found guilty?
JDT. Well, guess who's pre-judged? I don't know. This is the thing when you lived through that period of this history, when you knew that stuff was happening, when it was happening to people you knew, when those who did it were then killed in order that they could not come clean and give evidence. This evil thing was such a dreadful cancer in our midst that it's got to be opened out and let out and acknowledged. It was so evil and so bad, it's just - those who designed it have got to come clean. They have got to free us all of that stuff and, yes as I say, when you feel that in a way it was happening in your midst and it was happening in your name and it was happening to people around you, it permeated our lives in such an evil, awful way. So, yes, I'm not exactly unbiased in this.
POM. In that sense you must see a tremendous change in the last five years?
JDT. Oh God yes, oh yes. There are so many things that we just take for granted now even terribly, terribly simple things. One has only just got to work into the chaos that's called parliament and just see the kind of level of involvement, whereas before just getting in there was physically almost impossible. One of the real challenges for civil society in this country at the moment is that we're being asked to give opinions on absolutely damn well everything and we don't begin to have the capacity to make these comments on it. The amount of processes in an organisation like the one that I'm in just on environmental issues you could spend absolutely every weekend of the year going to meetings and conferences on all kinds of processes that are vital, that you would love to be part of but that in actual fact you don't have the capacity to respond to and continue to try and do the work that actually keeps you in business and raising the funds that you have to raise the funds for. So that which we called so passionately for, which was about participatory governance, so much is happening in such a very, very short space of time that to be realistically and meaningfully involved in it is almost impossible. One tries but it's very, very difficult. So I am saying it's both incredibly exhilarating - the reality of it is actually that it's not that easy given how much change is happening in such a condensed period of time and how much one is being asked to be part of processes.
POM. Is the change more in non-material things like freedom of expression?
JDT. Oh yes.
POM. Rather than in change in the socio-economic status of the majority of the people which hasn't really changed that much if in fact at all in the last four or five years.
JDT. I would say that the freedom of expression thing is key. It's very fascinating being in this building because this is on the route to parliament, people usually gather up in District Six, come along Darling Street and certainly when parliament is in session at least twice a week there is some kind of demonstration. And whereas those demonstrations used previously to be about your first generation rights, every single one of them nowadays has to do with an economic issue. If it isn't leather workers calling for Trevor Manuel to stop allowing any importation of leather goods, it's about saving jobs, it's about economic survival of many, many different groupings of people. In terms of socio-economic changes I think those are going to take a lot longer and I am wondering how much they are going to happen. Certainly what has happened reasonably fast is the changing elite, but that's just a wee, wee little, tiny fraction of your population. I mean by and large. I'm not sure that the changes economically on the ground have been all that great. There are some issues that have changed, like for instance in this organisation we do a lot of work in schools. Now until reasonably recently not all the black schools in Cape Town even had electricity. Now those kinds of issues are being addressed. All black schools within the urban area now have electricity. I think that just in terms of the changes that are taking place in schooling and in government spending on schooling there are some fairly fundamental changes and of course the schools that will have the most negative effects on them will be those in marginal white communities, in poorer white communities, because those are the very schools that the wealthy parent body won't be able to prop up once government money is taken away from them. So there certainly is somewhat of a redistribution in certain areas like schooling.
. The issues around where money is spent in terms of health is one that I am feeling a bit confused about because when I spoke to people involved in health when we were looking at restructuring one was quite encouraged by the fact that they said, look we think that health is one of the things that within a very similar budget it could be restructured and health care could be distributed much more fairly and much more in terms of primary health care. Well maybe it's early days but there seems to be an awful lot of chaos in health care and certainly friends who are working in public health are just abandoning it because they are saying it's actually so chaotic it's quite hard to hang in. They are people who have been very committed to a good public health system but they are finding it quite hard to hang in in the transition.
POM. When they say hard to hang in, they mean?
JDT. I suppose one of the issues is that the conditions of working in public health, in hospitals, are not good. Salaries generally are very poor. I suppose what's happening also is that whole shift towards two kinds of health care. Health care for those who can pay for it. And I guess at the end of the day when one is working in situations that are getting more and more pressing and more and more difficult in the hospitals, when they are offered jobs outside in the privatised health system they are eventually going for them even though they are feeling still quite guilty about it and still very committed to seeing a public health system work. So there are shifts. There's no question that there are some huge shifts and some shifts that I think people are benefiting from. Just how much it means to the ordinary person and the money in their pocket and their ability to survive is very hard to tell at this stage.
POM. I suppose my question in that regard is that is the scale of the problem so large and in a sense the resources to deal with them so limited even after all the restructuring and rationalisation and elimination of duplications that you are making a dent, but the rate at which problems proliferate are greater than the rate at which they can be ameliorated?
JDT. One is hoping not.
POM. What sense do you get in the Western Cape?
JDT. Well you see we're quite lucky here because our rate of joblessness is not the highest. I think we are the second lowest, well the second highest in terms of people with jobs in the Western Cape.
POM. Second highest number of people ...?
JDT. Who have jobs. So I think that our jobless rate is not quite as bad as others. This province, for all the problems that we've had in terms of the sort of friction between the ANC and the Nats, there was an existing bureaucracy provincially. It's certainly going through its hiccups. I notice we deal with, God help us, with the provincial RDP and we've had an application in for a year and a half for a project that in fact was only going to take about three months and we still haven't got approval nor the money. A little bit of it was our fault because over 18 months projects change so we've had to re-fashion them each time a new person has come into this bureaucracy and said, "Well I'm now in charge of the Clean & Green RDP Campaigns." We've had three, possibly four different people. What I'm saying is that there are levels of chaos here but I think that the Western Cape has not suffered as badly as it has in other areas. I think we are quite a well resourced and quite a wealthy province compared with the others. So I think one would have to go and look at places like the Eastern Cape or some of the northern provinces to ask about whether this thing is really filtering through because I think there still is a chance of surviving in the Western Cape that is much stronger than it is in the other provinces. I think even those who don't have jobs when a percentage of people is higher that has jobs especially in African communities where the whole sharing and ubuntu and extended family is still in operation I think people just have a much better chance of actual survival.
POM. Certainly Cape Town is a booming city by any yardstick one wishes to use. I don't think I've been in many places where I have seen so many buildings going up so quickly.
JDT. Really? Oh, OK, I hadn't noticed.
POM. All down by the Waterfront.
JDT. Yes well the Waterfront is booming. There is not an awful lot of other going on. There is still great caution in terms of investment. But Cape Town has certainly, in my sense, moved from its incredible sleepiness to a degree of activity. But one really doesn't have a sense in Cape Town and in the Western Cape of the terrible deprivation that there is in other provinces so I think it is really a bit different here.
POM. If you were looking at the - coming up on the second anniversary of the government of national unity, in what areas do you think the government has been most successful and in what areas has it been least successful?
JDT. Are you talking about in terms of actual ministries or just general areas?
POM. Generally, to start with.
JDT. Well I think that one of the issues that has been extraordinary for us in terms of success, and a lot of it one has to credit Nelson Mandela with, is the sense of belonging because I really do think that for all of the faults of this process I think - well I'll just give you a tiny, little example. I have a staff that's racially very mixed, quite a few of them I would say would have been ANC supporters, I have a woman who is coloured and they were watching the West Indies play yesterday - it's amazing how many people sit in this boardroom, find work to do in this boardroom when the games are on, they sit there with half an eye, and she was saying to me how extraordinary it was to actually be rooting for the South Africans against the West Indies because three years ago she would have been rooting for the West Indies. Now an awful lot of us would have too. I would have felt ambivalent but she now is right behind - she said, "I know they are all a bunch of white boys but I actually identify with them because we are all South Africans now." And this is a woman who would have been relatively radical, moderately radical in her thinking. So I am saying that that sense of a oneness is for me still a very, very important issue and she is saying that from her perspective as a black South African and white people are also saying it and I do think that the way in which sport is being used as a nation-building tool in a country for whom sport is so much a part of its guts has been very helpful. It might skim over some of the real issues but I think that if you're at least feeling that you're part of something you can at least also feel part of the solutions which is a very important part of it. So I think that that's been very important. I have stayed reasonably close to the issue of water and I think that Kader Asmal has been incredibly imaginative and creative on the issue. I think the whole thing around the tariffs recently has been very fascinating.
POM. The tariffs on?
JDT. Water tariffs. In this country before there has been no recognition of the fact that water belongs to all. Water that passed across land was owned by that person on that land, there was no particular sense of the communal ownership of water. And Asmal has in essence taken water and totally re-fashioned it. I think that that's been an incredibly important thing because it's one of this country's most scarce resources and it's something that needs to be incredibly carefully guarded because not only does right to that water need to be very carefully looked at but the quality of that water needs to be very carefully looked at. We have so little of it and I think that Kader Asmal will, I am told, move to prosecute those who are polluting not only above-ground water but underground water because there are some rivers like the Olifants that are just being dumped in and they are enormously important to feeding a lot of - Olifants in the Transvaal - and they are enormously important not only to South Africa but they move through neighbouring territories and in some cases they are chronically badly polluted so I think that they have done a lot of enormously important work on that. What else have they done that's been good? I can't think of anything very specific, but the openness that there is relative to government. Again I think, and I hope that they will take very seriously the whole issue of the code of ethics and parliamentarians because I think that's enormously important.
POM. Kader is also in charge of that committee.
JDT. I hope it will carry and I hope that every single parliamentarian will have to abide by it because at one stage when it was initially formed it was just for the ANC but it seems it has broadened its mandate now to all people who are part of parliament. It's certainly yet again one of those things that one would have fought for and one would like to see a new government taking forward.
POM. In terms of where is there most conspicuously a failure?
JDT. A failure? Do you know I can't think of one that stands out. Isn't that interesting? And not because I'm not critical of a lot of what's happening. I suppose if anything the failure for me would be some of the arrogance that comes with majoritarianism.
POM. Do you have fears of ...?
JDT. Can I tell you another one of the failures? Why I am saying that is that I have found some of the processes around the appointments of some of the commissions an absolute farce.
POM. Some of the commissions?
JDT. Commissions, like the Human Rights Commission. I went and listened in on a couple of the interviews that the committee was doing and I think it was decided beforehand, I think there was a lot of horse-trading and I think sometimes these processes are a farce. I was particularly angry about the Human Rights Commission. The first question that was asked of Sheena Duncan was, "I see you're 65, do you think that you are young enough to cope with this process or do you think your age would tell against you?" I was hysterical I was so cross. But it made me realise that the whole thing was a put up job because the level of questions they asked her frankly were an insult to a woman who has thought so hard about a lot of that stuff. I listened in on a couple of the others and it became relatively obvious who had been chosen to be on it beforehand and who hadn't. So. The Sash, because a number of us went to watch these things, we did write comments to the committee, their selection panel, afterwards about their process in which we made particular points about how we felt it was a put up job.
POM. Do you have any fears of this becoming a one-party democracy like that in the next election the ANC will secure 65% or 66% of the vote, that they can amend the constitution and that there is no effective opposition?
JDT. Yes it certainly is a worrying thought and if it starts to go the way of Zimbabwe then one really gets extremely concerned.
POM. Where would effective opposition come from?
JDT. Maybe the only way would be from some kind of coalition of the other parties but they are so disparate aren't they? Come from such totally different perspectives. Well it's going to be very fascinating to see who makes it into the next government in terms of parties because maybe some of them will be so small they will just disappear.
POM. PAC seems to be gone. The Conservative Party appears to be gone. Nationally the IFP seems to be gone. That leaves the Nationalist Party and the DP and the ANC.
JDT. That's right.
POM. So you've got two white parties and one black.
JDT. That's a bit terrifying isn't it.
POM. So you've got really racial politics when all is said and done.
JDT. Pretty scary, it is pretty scary. It's going to be very fascinating getting to see what happens to those PAC and IFP votes if those are the only parties that come through into the next election because you will, as you say, have racially opposing parties which is a dreadful kind of situation to be in.
POM. You've had all this hype about the intent of the NP to redefine itself and find a new vision built around core Christian values, pro-family. Does that mean the ANC is anti-family? To me it's kind of a fantasy land if they think they are going to attract black votes in the next 50 years. They must think people have no memory at all.
JDT. Well of course some people didn't have a memory in terms of the way the coloured votes went here. But black people? No. It is quite a chilling thought but it looks like that's the way we're going to go.
POM. How can you develop democratic institutions if in fact you never have had an opportunity to learn real democracy because there has always been one-party democracy, entrenched majoritarianism, entrenched from the very beginning, now without the gives and takes that are an essential ingredient of a functioning democracy, without the possibility of there being a change in government which is an essential ingredient of democracy?
JDT. It's part of our legacy isn't it? If the ANC has become so powerful, which it has done, that it's knocked out all the others and that what we're left standing with is two small white parties and one large, is it non-racial?
POM. It's not really. I mean politics is strictly, when you come down to it, racial.
JDT. Then I guess we are where our history has put us in a way.
POM. One thing that has struck me and two things that struck more forcibly coming back on this occasion, one thing here is that race permeates everything.
JDT. Oh. More so this time than before?
POM. Yes, that after five years or whatever of change, or two years of government of national unity, every issue is still seen through the prism of race.
JDT. That's terribly fascinating that that has struck you more so now because for me it's less so than it was.
POM. The reason for that could be maybe because I wasn't here before 1990 so I have no ...
JDT. What was the second thing? I'm just saying that for me it permeates things less than it did certainly in the eighties. There are opportunities that there weren't then to just deal with issues with race not being a part of it, just in one's ordinary everyday life.
POM. Of course, black, white, black only, white only.
JDT. We really did go in for it in a pretty wholehearted and pretty crude way, didn't we? But silly little things like the other night this organisation that had organised a golf day and two staff members were there helping us with some things and four years ago they wouldn't have been allowed in. Those are tiny but it's happened so smoothly we don't even notice that kind of stuff any more. So those prisms, that view of the world has gone. It still permeates an awful lot of our society but for me an awful lot less. What was the second thing that struck you forcibly?
POM. Is that I've got to get out of the cities, that they are not South Africa.
JDT. There are two different South Africas, because to say that the cities are not South Africa when so much of South Africa lives in the cities is running away from it.
POM. But if one stays here it colours one, it distorts completely one's understanding of South Africa if one confines oneself to working just in cities.
JDT. But then there are many different South Africas. There is South Africa in the rural areas, there is the Western Cape, there is the Eastern Cape, a whole other place that feels so different, everything about it, the way people think is different. There's KwaZulu/Natal which is its own special place. South Africa is not just one thing. To me it's lots of very different places.
POM. That was the first sentence in what I wrote.
POM. That South Africa was not one place, there were several South Africas.
JDT. Yes there are, there are many different South Africas. It's so striking because like you say once I get away from here I forget the colouring, the nuances, the different mind-sets that there are in so many different parts of this country. It's not just one place. And then there's magic old Gauteng.
POM. This you may be able to help me with because it's something Mandela said and it, of course, received no elaboration in the media at all. He said in a speech on the sixth anniversary of his release from prison and it was quoted in The Citizen, he said, "It will take years before there is any visible delivery in South Africa largely because of the R250 billion national debt inherited from the previous government."
POM. Now no-one picked him up on that.
JDT. I didn't even notice that. First of all I don't read The Citizen, but I don't remember seeing that figure in quotations on that same speech. How totally fascinating. Wow!
POM. I'm going to try and get a copy of this.
JDT. 250 billion. I'm not surprised but that's quite a debt.
POM. But he's also saying there will be no visible delivery in which case he's saying we've got the RDP out there and we're promising delivery and we're improving a bit ...
JDT. And we're so in debt we can't actually do it.
POM. But to tell you the honest truth there's going to be no delivery. It's a strange statement, stranger still that there was no commentary on it at all.
JDT. No reaction to it. That's very fascinating.
POM. This is more a question for conservatives.
JDT. Thank you!
POM. You need not volunteer at all. And that is, have reactions of people who have gone through parliament looking at the art exhibition or reactions of white members of parliament who now walk through and see all their portraits gone ...
JDT. I haven't been there since the old portraits were gone, but the old portraits were so funny and so anachronistic that I'm not surprised they had to go. I mean, really, the first room you walked into there was this long thing of PW Botha's Cabinet. What a bunch of old scoundrels. The first thing you're confronted with! I wish I had had a camera because the day that I walked in there was this huge damn portrait and there was a plush green bench underneath it and the most wonderful mixture of women in saris and men in African garb and the counterpoint of these two was just delicious beyond sweet speech. I wish I had had a camera at the time. So I have not seen the new portraits. I certainly saw some of the anti-apartheid stuff overseas but I must go and take a look at it.
POM. I would say if I were a white member, or if I had been a white member of parliament previously, it would make me very uncomfortable.
JDT. Really? Oh well I must go and have a look at it.
POM. It's very striking and very visual and you can't miss it. It screams out.
JDT. Well I must definitely go and pay a visit.
POM. The other last thing I was going to ask you is, you hear these echoes of the Afrikaner's increasing sense of isolation, the feeling that they have that they've been outwitted. Like that the recommendations of the Volkstaat Council were just summarily rejected by the ANC out of hand, the cutting back to two hours of language on the SABC, the marginalisation of their language more than anything else in other ways and perhaps not sufficient appreciation, this is my own observation, in ANC circles of the importance of language to a culture as distinct from ethnicity. Ethnic identity itself is that language is one of the key factors, is the factor that is dividing Quebec. It's about language, even though it's a bilingual society the emphasis is out of all proportion to what one would think it would be in a sophisticated society.
JDT. Sorry, what was your question?
POM. Have they been marginalised? Has a decision been made that a threat from the right is gone and that the Afrikaner threat that loomed over the country in terms of whether it was revolt or revolution or the security forces ...?
JDT. It certainly does seem to have because just the way in which the SABC has cut down what was 50% of two of its stations to such a minor, minor part of broadcasting, and somehow this seems to be incredibly symbolic what SABC has done. I think it's got to say fairly clearly that we don't regard you as a threat any longer.
POM. We don't regard you as a threat. But does that also mean that we don't regard you as very much any longer? In other words are the actions that are being taken now that you are no longer a threat or we don't see you as a threat, that we can marginalise you because you are after all a small group? Is that building up grievances in the Afrikaner mindset that in fact what they thought would happen, i.e. that their culture would be absorbed by the larger culture around them, the dominant culture, is in fact happening and that they are on their way in that sense to extinction?
JDT. But isn't that the nature of where we live and the fact that those small groupings like the white Afrikaner, the white English-speaking person is very much in the minority, that the dominant culture is the dominant culture. But in a funny way in the States you have the opposite kind of movement. You have the movement that it's the recognition - I mean they are almost taking diversity to extremes. It's like, the way I'm thinking it must almost be customised. If there are two people, you must get your own ...
JDT. You're a minority group and therefore have entrenched rights.
POM. Entrenched rights and must have your own schooling and your own this and your own that and own health care programmes, must be interpreted through your cultural lens not through the dominant lens.
JDT. Yes but those sorts of things and subtleties are really only available to nations with the kind of moneys that can allow them to do those sorts of things. We're in such a different situation. My experience is Canada where for me the Canadians have achieved what I consider, apart from Quebec forgive me, my experience of living in anglophile Canada, let me put it that way, was that they managed to achieve an extraordinary thing which was that you belonged to Canada but you never had your diversity and your prior nationhood as a nation of immigrants, you never had it stamped out, that in fact cultural diversity was celebrated, was encouraged and in its own funny way that bred a more passionate loyalty to Canada than any kind of melting pot which the United States went through in an earlier part of its history. It made me passionately loyal to Canada the fact that, well, it didn't stamp out what I was trying to ignore anyway which was trying to pretend I wasn't South African. But I found the way in which it celebrated diversity was something very special but then Canada was a very middle class society in which a lot of people could be given a fair spread of the country's resources. We're here at a point in our history where the bulk of the people were denied access to bloody well anything. Now it's just such a different sort of a circumstance that the demand of that majority for its fair share just breeds such a different circumstance on the ground and we can't wish those things away.
POM. I hate to leave you with this lingering thought, but now I think Canada is beginning to fall apart.
JDT. I know, I know they are. But Canada was very special before it fell apart.
POM. As always you're so interesting, and thank you for the time again.
JDT. A great pleasure but I could not begin to answer your political questions because as you can see my head has had to move itself away.
POM. That's interesting. That's good. I found that with regard to Northern Ireland, I've been involved since 1972 to 1990, very involved, and I felt I had to get out. Even though I was living in the States I was writing a lot about it and doing a lot of work there and I found that it was time to move on and get either refreshed or rejuvenated.
JDT. For me one of the interesting things I experienced, I went to Zimbabwe a couple of times prior to 1990. I went in 1987 and again in 1989 and one of the most powerful things I came back with was the marginalisation of the liberals and it was quite a warning sign to me in an African context about that overpowering thing that's got to happen when the majority of the country has been denied its rights. They have got to go through that process and one of the things that struck me was that the most constructive thing I could do after the Black Sash, which still as I say lingers very deeply there in me, would be in fact to get right out of the political arena, in fact right out of NGOs, so I am quite surprised at having landed up where I am at the moment because the issues of waste are highly political ones too, especially in a country where multi-nationals and pollution control are not controlled all that well. The laws are reasonable but the actual implementation is lousy. My sense was that the most constructive thing I could do would be to get right out of this arena altogether and go into some form of entrepreneurial game. My family has a wine farm and earning foreign currency for this country, keeping an economic machine on the go while these political processes were gone through was maybe the most constructive thing I could do. So that's what I could well be moving on to next.
POM. I'll be your wine taster. Do it!
JDT. My family has done exceptionally well. It's a wine called Thelema and my brother-in-law is the wine-maker. It's a small farm, it's a family run farm. My Mum does the wine tastings and my Dad does some of the bookkeeping and my sister does the deliveries and my brother-in-law makes the wine and goes overseas and gets all kinds of nice awards, etc., etc.
POM. Is that right? That's wonderful.
JDT. He was over in October in New York for the Wine Spectator who invited him over to do some tastings and he was one of a couple of South Africans. That aspect has been quite interesting, but one just has a sense that maybe that's where, if you're going to make your contribution, you're going to make it. So I suppose when you were talking about the marginalisation of the Afrikaner I think it's been more than the marginalisation of the Afrikaner and I don't think it's all that bad a thing.
POM. That's really what the whole controversy at Wits University is about, that it just has to go through this change and that's it.
JDT. Absolutely. Yes.
POM. In the end white liberal values are not the value system of the majority of the population.
POM. Much as we would like them to be perhaps.
JDT. Well it's certainly what I find extremely hard to shake off. I obviously have to question them but they are just so much a part of my being that I will continue to bleat about them in my own quiet way but I think it's time one moved on.
POM. But they are part of your identity so you're not about to change your identity.
POM. So for better or worse at this point in your life you're stuck with them.
JDT. Absolutely. And I will continue to bleat when I feel that they are being trod on.
POM. By and large we think they are good values.
JDT. Absolutely. I find it extremely hard to change. I have become a real rigid old woman now, haven't I?