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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

20 Mar 1996: Chalmers, Judy

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POM     Judy, we had just been talking about how difficult it is for public figures in certain circumstances to be as transparent as they would like to be and while transparency in theory is to be much admired, in practice too much can often be as damaging as too little. We had just mentioned the Sarafina case; now what fascinates me about it is that in any normal democracy she would have had to resign simply as a matter of principle and accountability and responsibility but here there was a closing of ranks behind her where one was left with the impression that some of the lessons of how the practices of democracy are not executed as they are in other, I might say, more mature democracies or whatever.

JC     I think it has been a very difficult one and here I don't know that her resignation was ever the issue from her party, from the ANC. She has done a remarkable job, she's a remarkable woman. She has laid down the foundation for turning health around in this country, a Health Department that has always served the white community far, far better than any of the other communities, so one had to be fully aware that sort of criticism was not coming from the ANC members of our portfolio committee and the Democratic Party called for her resignation and I think the media, who have been highly critical of the way that her department has handled the Sarafina/AIDS play, have not been solid in their calling for her resignation because she has done such a good job. I think the play itself, what we did in our portfolio committee which was our absolute, not only our right but was what we should and did do, was to call for a briefing from the department on how the money was spent, how the decision was taken that that was how that particular lot of AIDS money would be spent, and in a sense it's been a learning exercise for us all both in democracy, in transparency and in our way of functioning because we have not up to now had the sort of relationship with the Health Department that we would have wanted for quite a number of very different reasons but partly just because of lack of experience.

     And so we've come out of it with a far stronger base from which to work on health issues. The health play itself has still got a long way to go and I have not seen it so I cannot really judge on its merits. I think the whole AIDS scenario in South Africa is one that causes extreme concern across the board but particularly in the Health Department and particularly with our Minister of Health, Nkosazana Zuma, because she has worked in the field quite substantially and nothing is making very much difference as far as the AIDS statistics are concerned, so a decision was taken to do something really different and creative and the AIDS play was what happened. If at the end of a year we find that there is considerably more awareness in rural communities, amongst the youth who have seen it and identified with what it is trying to say, then maybe it's cheap at the price, but what caused us concern in our portfolio committee was that we were not briefed, we were not given accurate information and that did not enable us to fulfil our function both a watchdog on what was happening in health in this country and it's been an unhappy experience and I don't think it's behind us yet.

     For me personally it was difficult. I come from a civil rights, human rights background and I made the point that we should be fully briefed, given the accurate statistics and data right at the beginning and in fact we only received that information on the day that the minister came to our full portfolio committee to answer questions from the different parties. So it was very uncomfortable for me and it once again highlighted for me, in a sense, my whiteness because I was saying all the things that I've said most of my life and I wasn't the only one saying those things but there was certainly a feeling that the minister needed full and public support from the ANC section of the portfolio committee, and I agree with that, but I said we have an independent life of our own in our portfolio committee, we have a job to do and we must remember that we are representatives of the people who put us here and in this portfolio committee which is health we need to be accountable to the people who put us here. It wasn't easy, it was a difficult couple of weeks.

POM     Talking of being conscious of your whiteness, I've noted particularly in the last couple of years an increasing hostility between the ANC and what one might call white liberals, whether they belong to the Democratic Party or whether they are people who are opinion makers, in academia or in the media or whatever. What do you think, (i) would you say that animosity exists and (ii) if it does what do you think accounts for it?

JC     I think it's a swing of the pendulum to an extent and I don't think it's across the board. Here in parliament there are acknowledged Africanists, people who maybe come from the Black Consciousness Movement and who have not moved into a South Africa for all South Africans mode who still perceive, and it's very true, that big business is mainly still controlled by affluent Afrikaans and English-speaking whites and there is a great resentment of that power and that control and some of it spills over into our committees here in parliament. I think you see it in the academic situation as well. To me it's something of a cop-out because to be called a racist, which has happened to me here in parliament when I have criticised a situation, as I did in the Sarafina situation where a very gifted black playwright was given the tender to do the play, and I just said I thought it needed to be questioned whether it was appropriate for one person to receive R14 million when that amount could have been spread across the provinces, and one person did say, "Well that's a very racist statement." I think that's a cop-out as far as I am concerned. I would have said the same thing whether the playwright had been yellow, green, purple. The fact that he was black was not the point, it was that the money was going to one person and to his company.

     I think it's cause for concern that there is a feeling of resentment but it's so easy to look at South Africa and very dangerous to look at South Africa and see the positions being filled by whites and affirmative action has a very important role to play and must happen, but we also must be very careful of the sort of affirmative action where inappropriate people are put into particular jobs just because they are black. I think things have happened like the Magkoba scenario at Wits University and that has, thank goodness, I think been resolved now, but there were a lot of people who said it's because he's black that the sort of criticism of him that he had been experiencing had happened. I don't think that was the reason although white against black racism is still alive and well in South Africa. It certainly hasn't gone away, but it is changing and we are getting a levelling of acceptance from people across the board.

POM     Do you think, just two points Judy, one is when you talk about big business still being controlled by whites, you would put in that category, I assume, the media, particularly the major newspapers in the country which have become particular targets of ANC grievance. That's one, and do you think that grievance is justified in terms of the role the press should be playing? Two, I'd like to hear your further thoughts on the Magkoba affair because I followed that quite closely and the way it was turned into a black/white race issue from the beginning clouded everything else whereas the resolution of the problem strongly suggests that most of the allegations that were made against Professor Magkoba, at least with regard to his CV, were in fact substantially correct even though the Memorandum of Agreement was couched in very delicate language and that the issue in the end wasn't about race, it was about some very real fundamental issues about honesty, integrity, whatever.

JC     I think as far as the media are concerned, I think it is still white controlled. I think there has been quite a lot of irresponsible handling of stories in the media that have certainly not helped reconciliation in this country, but that is something that I think is partly historic. From way back the media went for the big stories and did so much self-monitoring in addition to the legislation that prevented them from presenting the truth and it will probably take a while before truly good and careful and analytical and responsible journalism happens in this country. The Cape Times now has a black editor, there are a lot of changes taking place and some of those carefully considered and pro-active changes are taking place and I think that as far as the black public are concerned they realise and are comfortable with the fact that the face of journalism is only now starting to reflect what the masses and the people of this country are saying and doing and experiencing and it's coming right, I think.

     Regarding the Magkoba case, you probably have studied it more carefully than I have. It has really been unfortunate and the end result was they clearly hung on to what they could of what Professor Magkoba was saying regarding why he said and did the things that he did regarding his ability as an administrator. It's so easy to sit in judgement. I only have to see what's happening in this parliament, how inadequate the administrative capacities are of many of us here and for Professor Magkoba he clearly needed a lot more support and back-up to what he had to do as a job than he was receiving in the office that he was fulfilling for Wits. Regarding his CV I don't really know what he wrote and presented that was really way off beam but clearly, as he is saying now that it could have led to misunderstandings, he did misrepresent himself and it's unfortunate because he clearly has an enormous ability as a medical researcher. He has achieved so much, he has done so much and for him to be now put in a position where he has to apologise really to South Africa for things that he said and did is very, very sad. And of course he can still become Vice Chancellor. That does not seem to be out of the picture altogether.

     But you're right, it became in the eyes of South Africa, certainly black South Africa, it became a black/white issue. They regarded him as being a victim of his colour and that probably was true to an extent but the reality was that he made some very grave mistakes. And if only people could, as when one thinks back to a few months ago when Eugene Nyati was the adviser to Matthews Phosa and utterly misrepresented himself from what we gather in the press and received enormous amounts of money, and Matthews Phosa just said to South Africa, "I really messed up, I'm sorry, it won't happen again. I made a big mistake employing this man and trusting him in the way I did", and people said, "OK, it happens to us all." It was a very costly mistake. People must learn to say, "I've made a mistake."

POM     I suppose, again, in most other democracies a person presenting themselves for high office whether in the private sector, but a private sector which has immense public sector links and immense importance to the public in large, or for public office, who misrepresent who they are, are automatically out of it. It's not a matter of debate and you're gone. Is there a different standard here? Is there a clash of values in terms of the way 'white liberal democracies' would look upon the way these issues are dealt with and the way Africans feel they should be dealt with?

JC     I don't know. There certainly is a clash of values. It's difficult for me to be judgmental on that because in black communities and my experience of sitting and working in rural communities, there is a far greater tolerance really and preparedness to forgive and work through issues so that people don't lose face, people don't come out of a situation destroyed by something that has happened. There is a much greater feeling of , "All right, he's made a mistake but don't let's alienate, don't let's lose her or him, he must remain within the family, within the community, within the organisation and let's see how we can use the skills that we know he or she has in order to keep them and still be able to make good use of those skills." It takes an enormous amount for people to be cast out in my experience of the way black people handle their crises and handle their inter-personal relationships and handle their organisational problems. If it's at all possible, and maybe there's a lot to be learnt from it, I think perhaps in our cut and dried ideas of right and wrong we lose a lot of the ability to understand and forgive. You see that in such an extraordinary fashion if you look at people who have suffered terribly in detention and then you find them sitting on committees and working alongside those who have been the perpetrators of their pain. I myself have learnt a great deal, but at the same time one has to be very careful not to allow the values that we hold dear become too fuzzy and fall away and be lost because of an inability to act strongly against a wrong-doer.

POM     Is there an insinuation, I would call it, at best that criticism becomes equated with racism and that the all convenient fall-back retort to any kind of criticism merited or unmerited, if the criticism comes from whites in particular, is to play the racist card, that it's the legacy of apartheid, it's in-built racism, it's unconscious racism, whatever it is, which inhibits people from saying what's really on their mind because who want to be called a racist and have to defend themselves against that kind of attack?

JC     That is very true. For me here in parliament, and I tend to be direct in my approach to problems, I have learnt to couch criticism in a different sort of language. I think I have learnt that you just can't be direct in your criticism, that there are ways of managing criticism that work but it takes longer and it takes sitting and becoming part of a process and you build your criticism into that process. We've got that situation right now in one committee that I sit on where a particular person has not been doing the job that he should have done and for some time now I've been saying, "Not performing, we must make a plan", and then I've realised that you can't just go from A to B like that, you've got to take it slowly, you've got to build a process of fact really that will show that it's more by example than by direct word. You build a process whereby it becomes visible to all that the job is not being done and then action will be taken. But if at the beginning one says he's not doing his job, let's get rid of him, people would just immediately close ranks and I might well be accused of racism, but if the job is not being done, people want to perform well, then you build a process of evidence in a slow and careful and subtle way that is recognised for what it is.

POM     In that sense again this comes back to values like the west, and I use the west in a sense of being synonymous with white even though it's not, but puts such a premium on efficiency, on meritocracy as prime requirements for a job whereas perhaps among Africans efficiency as such counts for a lesser percentage of the overall quotient.

JC     I think that efficiency is recognised as being extremely desirable but it goes alongside a carefulness not to destroy or highlight people's inadequacies which is quite difficult. People in the current scenario are given every chance to prove themselves and if after X amount of time it is clear that they can't do the job then you move in and say, "We think perhaps you should be doing something else." In this parliament now there are enormous inefficiencies but it's partly because in the old days they just rubber stamped everything and the requirement was not there for the portfolio committees to do a really well-briefed and thoughtful and creative job as far as the creation of new policy is concerned. Now we are making demands on ourselves and on the parliamentary structure that is very different. Some of the secretaries that have come in here are extremely inadequate to do the job and there are complaints that go out but at the same time they are young black women who have the need of a job so there's a great combination of frustration and recognition and a hope that they will grow to be able to do the job in an adequate way. I don't think it's fair to say that western values of efficiency and results are not also very highly needed and respected as far as the black community is concerned but there is also a recognition that the people who can actually come up with the goods are fairly few and far between because they have come from such a history of ill-education and those who come out at the top with really the ability to do the job and make a difference are geniuses I think, the likes of Saki Makizoma and Ramaphosa and some of the other really amazingly young leaders that we have, what they have achieved is so much greater because of their historic inadequacies. Somehow we've got to find that balance of efficiency and ability to deliver without taking on some of the other western values of harshness.

POM     Throw them in the dustbin.

JC     Yes, that that is really all that makes the world turn round. It's a great opportunity to keep the sort of ubuntu of caring and relationships ticking over and at the same time take on the white values of efficiency and the ability to deliver. It's not easy.

POM     I want to put some of what you said in a specific context, and that's the local elections of last year. First, how would you interpret the results of those elections?

JC     Well speaking for the Eastern Cape we were quite surprised that the elections happened as trouble-free as they did and they certainly did. We were very nervous that the actual delivery of the vote would not happen in an effective enough way. Where I was up in the rural areas it just went so smoothly, it was tremendous, it was a great experience. In Port Elizabeth itself it was remarkable because it was a very bad day and where I spent some time in the Walmer area it was pouring with rain but the people, and there was only one ANC candidate in the white suburbs which was where I was helping, and the people were so determined to vote that the sick and the lame and the halt and the crippled just made it their business to be there and it was one of the polling booths where it did not go smoothly and yet it happened remarkably well. There have been problems since then. In the rural area there has been a real racial divide, it's between the coloured and the black community in Graaff-Reinet which is my constituency.

POM     That's where?

JC     It's in the Karoo, it's north of Port Elizabeth, about three hours north of Port Elizabeth and it's a little town that historically the major percentage of the population is coloured, but the ANC there is predominantly the black grouping and there was a really difficult, which is still not fully resolved, scenario where only blacks were nominated for the positions in the council, the top positions that would clearly get into the council. So the coloured community were hurt and upset and some of the resigned from the ANC and then the Town Council itself just did not have enough members. There was a boycott of the council itself and it did not have enough members to start doing the work to keep the town running. It's still unresolved, there's still a rift in the leadership there and that's coloured/black, and that is something that has unfortunately been a factor in the Western Cape and in some of the rural communities where there is a large coloured constituency. I'm not quite sure how that is going to be resolved.

POM     When the ANC after the results were in, itself claiming a massive victory, it said it was a vindication of its policies, it's own paper said parties misread voter moods with the sub-legend that all parties in the local government election but one were hopelessly out of touch with the voters. Then Cyril Ramaphosa when he was commenting on it in a briefing said, "In the weeks before the election the media predicted widespread voter apathy, widespread voter protest vote was also predicted intimating that most South Africans were disenchanted with the government of national unity under the leadership of the ANC. South Africans, we were told, would register displeasure by voting against the ANC or by not voting at all. The results indicated that most of these predictions were hopelessly incorrect." And Valli Moosa said that, "The elections were a phenomenal success. Everything indicated a massive voter turnout throughout the country constituting an overwhelming interest in local government." A lot of the ANC time was spent media-bashing, saying you bashed us before the election now we're going to bash you. Do you think that criticism was justified?

JC     The media, the criticism of the media?

POM     Ramaphosa made of the media and that the ANC in general made of the media.

JC     That there would be massive voter apathy. I can only speak once again for - you know we went into recess at the end of September in order to work in the elections and where I was working in the Eastern Cape and the Eastern Cape itself, although one sees some of the national media I don't think it was the order of the day there. I don't recall that there was a great ANC-bashing exercise in that part of the world. There was criticism of the fact that in the Transkei nobody seemed to know what was going on and it really was only the ANC that had strategies on the ground to bring what were the issues to the people and I don't think that happened in an effective way, but then the logistics of the Transkei are such that it would be irrational to expect it to happen. As far as the national media is concerned I think the ANC is very, very media sensitive with quite good cause. I can't really comment on that.

POM     When you say 'with quite good cause', what do you point to?

JC     Just once again I go back to the Sarafina thing where we were really upset at the coverage that was given. It wasn't inaccurate but it was unbalanced coverage around what the realities were of what is happening. And of course it made a better story which is always the way of the world, isn't it, to highlight an issue and keep it before the public eye in a way that will produce ongoing outrage or condemnation or surprise. The good news is not really hot news as far as the media is concerned. There were one or two really excellent analytical looks at what was happening there in terms of the ability and the achievements of the minister and just saying this particular thing has been cause for great concern but let us not lose sight of what has been achieved by the Health Department.

POM     This is Mac Maharaj is it?

JC     No that was Nkosazana Zuma with the health thing.

POM     I'm saying it because what struck me afterwards was that there was so little analysis of the local elections despite all of the hype and the build up and what would happen is that after the elections all the papers declared the ANC the big winners and that was it. And yet when you look at the figures it indicates that whereas 88% of voting age voters went to the polls in 1994, 38% went in 1995. In terms of raw numbers you had 13.5 million voters cast their ballots in 1994 compared to 5.8 million in 1995, a drop of 7.7 million voters indicating a 57% drop in voter turnout. Yet Valli Moosa says the elections were a phenomenal success and everything indicates a massive voter turnout throughout the country. In fact people did stay at home, and this was the first occasion on which blacks had the actual opportunity to vote for black people as distinct from parties so it had its own uniqueness.

JC     That's correct. In the rural areas there was such a misunderstanding, there was not nearly enough education. People were saying, "But why must we vote again? We voted, we've done that." Or others were saying, 'But what happened to Mandela? Why do we need to vote for somebody else? He's the one we want." So there was certainly a great deal of misunderstanding and people felt that they were actually betraying their beloved President by wanting to vote for somebody else. So that's very rural, that was what I heard quite a lot of in the Transkei. I think there was apathy because people were saying nothing's changed, why must we vote again? And we would say you vote again to make something change, now you vote for - and explained the whole process of what local authority meant and then they would be happy to come along. But possibly it was the lack of education. I don't know what the reasons were for the stay-away.

JC     Well that's correct and possibly it just either doesn't bode very well for the future in terms of transparency and honesty or maybe at that stage they didn't know, maybe it was ignorance, or maybe they thought they could get away with it, that it was once again just saying the things that the public want to hear or that the party wants to hear. I can't imagine the reasons for that.

POM     Or was it saying to the media, "Screw you"?

JC     Yes, you predicted a disaster and ...

POM     We're just turning the figures around a little bit and saying we've still got nearly two thirds of the vote, which was predictable enough. Is part of the problem that there will be an inevitable tendency for this to become a one-party democracy? I'm not saying one-party state but a one-party democracy. The PAC for all intents and purposes is gone so if you are a black person you have the option really of voting for the ANC or not voting at all since the likelihood of your voting for the National Party, despite their dearest wishes, is about one in a million.

JC     I don't know, I think it certainly is a worry because my background is such that I believe a good opposition is essential to democracy and I think that we are in a position now where we are hugely, except for Natal, in a very powerful position. At the same time right now there are so many new policies and new procedures that need to be put in place that it's very useful to have a party that is as powerful as the ANC because when one looks at what is happening regarding the old bureaucrats, the old Afrikaans bureaucrats, it's an uphill battle all the way and if we are to get bills passed.

POM     Have you found that in your personal dealings with them?

JC     Oh yes very much so.

POM     How does it express itself?

JC     Well for instance in welfare where welfare has always been predominantly caring, when one looks at white pensions, black pensions, coloured and Asian pensions, there was a huge discrepancy in what people received. Now we have achieved equity as far as that is concerned but the policy for welfare for the whole country needs to be re-thought. I think particularly of a meeting I attended yesterday on the rights of the child, it's called The Child Care Act, where we are saying the child must be the priority and the bureaucrats are saying, no, no, unfit parents must be the priority. The sorts of obstructive ways of functioning and working, the one fellow in the Welfare National Department has been there for 25 years and his mind is not going to shift around to new ways of thinking, to creative ways of dealing with the problems.

POM     Is he the Director/General?

JC     He's not the Director/General. We've got an ANC Director/General, he's one of the people of the next tier. It's very difficult and there we have a situation with a National Party minister, an ANC deputy minister and the DG is now ANC, but the next phalanx who stand shoulder to shoulder don't want to shift their ways of thinking, their ways of working. You have to fight for every inch of legislative change in order to look at street children holistically, to look at ways of managing social services as opposed to social security in a more pro-active way. Time and again the Correctional Services Department, I hear from that committee that they are dealing with such obstructive and difficult officialdom.

     So you need a strong political party in power, I think is one way that will counter-balance that sort of under-belly of powerful bureaucracy that is still to a large extent in existence and it may be that it is one way of bringing about change in this country whereas if we had a less powerful ruling party and say the National Party were very much a powerful opposition those bureaucrats would never change. I remember Van Zyl Slabbert saying that the major problem that we're going to face in this country is the obstructive bureaucrat who will not get his head around change and creative change in this country. But I think that opposition, the only opposition really in parliament is the DP and they do quite a good job. I think the National Party have lost their way to quite a large extent, as of now they have had a lot of resignations and good people resigning, people like Leon Wessels who I think had a role to play in the future of this country in parliament. For whatever reason he's no longer going to be there. And in the short term I think a powerful ruling party can bring about and help bring about real change in this country. In the longer term I think it's an unhealthy situation.

POM     Has the National Party lost its sense of identity? Let me put that maybe this way, that the party had tried to reform apartheid in the early eighties under PW. It failed in part because you can't reform something that you have to abolish. Is the party in a sense, in the same way that once you took away the heart and soul of it which was the upholding and maintenance of apartheid, if you have taken away the identity of the party there is no reason for its existence?

JC     I think that has happened. I wouldn't say there's no reason for its existence because they do represent a reasonable number of people in this country who see themselves as South Africans and see their future in this country, but they are having a very difficult time re-finding themselves because the Freedom Front has taken up the ground of the volkstaat, the DP are very vocal in their purely oppositional role, the PAC are not around any more. The National Party, even their leader F W de Klerk, his body language, when he sits in parliament he is a very different man to what he was three years ago, and it's clear that they are trying to find a new image for themselves. They are wooing the coloured electorate in a very proactive way and that is probably the way they will go because of Afrikaans. I think Afrikaans will always be a substantial language in South Africa. There are more Afrikaans speaking people than there are English and so the fear of the lost language is not really a rational one and they realise it's not rational, it's a political point-scorer as far as they are concerned. The blacks that they do have in their party are people, and one hears it stated quite clearly from them who are in it for the money, there is no policy particularly that they believe in, where they couldn't play a more fulfilling role within the ANC. So I think they are having a very difficult time of it at the present. I don't think they've got the quality leadership that they would like. They have got a few good people like Roelf Meyer, Danie Schutte is right wing but he's quite able, Sheila Camerer, but for the most part they are poor bunch quite honestly.

POM     Roelf tops everybody's lists.

JC     Do you interview him?

POM     All the time yes. I think I told you I brought him and Cyril to Boston where they both got honorary degrees together and both were our joint Commencement speakers.

JC     Well they are good friends aren't they?

POM     It was an historic day, they arrived in Boston the day after the vote on the date of the election had been set.

JC     It would be very nice to interview you some time to hear what - because if anybody has ...

POM     I have no opinions.

JC     No, no, not opinions, but if anyone has a cross spectrum of what is being said in this country it's yourself.

POM     Just on the National Party for a moment, is it fantasy when De Klerk comes out and says, he said I think at Hermanus a couple of weeks ago, that he can see the day in the not too distant future when millions of blacks will vote for the National Party, a reconstituted National Party built around core values and the like? Is that a fantasy?

JC     I think it's a fantasy. What does the National Party have to offer? It has considerable experience in government, an unfortunate government but the experience is there. It has efficiency, it has administrative skills, but as far as a dream and a vision I don't think people trust them enough to be able to trust that dream and vision.

POM     This is like saying people we have oppressed in the most brutal way for at least 40 years and in general for 300 years will turn around and within ten years put all that aside and vote for us?

JC     No, it's totally unrealistic.

POM     I find it condescending towards blacks. It's like saying you will have no memory, you will just put aside the great injustice we did to you, or else they have no appreciation of the injustice that they did do.

JC     In the Western Cape the Nats won the Western Cape and so as far as the coloureds are concerned you have to realise that the coloureds do not exactly mistrust but distance from black South Africans is very considerable and there is a great lack of trust there as well. I mean the poor unfortunate coloured community find themselves in a no-person's land to an extent and yet when you talk to coloured members of the ANC they are very solidly rooted in the ANC themselves but they are also very concerned because they feel the ANC is not taking sufficient cognisance and care of the coloured South African, which I think somebody like Mandela is certainly extremely aware of. He came to a rally in Graaff-Reinet just before the elections and there were very few coloureds there and there was a lovely choir and there was a group of little drum majorettes and there were no coloured kids amongst them and up on the podium he gave the rally community who were there, he gave us hell because he said, "Where are the coloured children? Why do I see no coloured children here? How do you think we can have a new South Africa if the members of the coloured community are not encouraged to come to a rally to hear their President? It's absolutely unacceptable." He has the ability to chastise in a very forthright and honest way which people accept absolutely. It doesn't even seem to really make them cross because for the most part it's very well founded and I don't think anybody else could do that.

POM     In that sense is he the glue that holds the country together during this transitional period?

JC     I think so. He tries very hard to say he's not and he cites the example of Luthuli, when Luthuli went they thought well there's no-one to lead the ANC and then Oliver Tambo came up, and he said, "I have wonderful lieutenants and they will take over because I will not stand in 1999 again, nobody of my age should do that." But right now he is quite a substantial part of that glue. Maybe if there was one clear-cut successor it would be easier and perhaps there is one clear-cut successor but I'm not sure that the South African public perceive it as clear-cut as that. I lead still a fractured life of being in the white community of my home town and friends here who are still very fearful about the economy and the future and what happens when Mandela goes, and then moving in and being with my black comrades who are just getting on with the work. And I say to the whites, stop wringing your hands and standing on the sidelines, there is work to be done. You have no right to complain and no right to criticise if you are not doing something yourself to make a change and make a difference. And they get quite fed up.

POM     I was going to say when you were talking about Mandela that I thought the most poignant moment of all in his divorce proceedings was here was the man who is the epitome of reconciliation, the person binding the wounds of the nation, devoting his remaining years to ensuring that there is a nation that lasts beyond him, and that nation is built on reconciliation, saying that, "There is nothing in the universe that could persuade me to be reconciled with my wife."

JC     Yes, I couldn't believe it.

POM     What if Magnus Malan and his co-defendants are found innocent? What signal will that send into the black community? What are its repercussions?

JC     I don't know and I don't know what significance it would have for the Truth Commission. I think, I hadn't even considered it as a possibility quite honestly, but it may be that evidence is not found. Although I find that difficult because I would have thought that in order for them to - it's a very crucial and a very public and a very high profile case and I don't think it will be as simple as finding of innocence but it may be that there are legal alternatives found that may not condemn him in the way that we are all thinking that he will be condemned, he and his colleagues. I think if it were to happen there would definitely be a great feeling of mistrust once again towards the whole legal way of working and functioning because there is no doubt in the hearts and minds of the majority of the people in this country that he must take the rap for so much of what happened and in the particular case on which they have brought him to book, which seems to have been a case of mistaken identity anyway, but the intent was clearly there and it was only one incident that happened in a whole range and era of similar dreadful things. But certainly the system of legal justice will be brought into dispute.

POM     In a sense it seems to me you may have put your finger on the problem, is that he is being tried on a specific charge of murder with regard to a specific incident in a specific place at a specific time, all of which requires direct evidence to show the link between the individual and the murder itself. That's what he's being tried on, whereas many people are seeing him as being tried for every murder, every torture that was okayed for the entire dirty tricks third force activities of the security forces which he's not being tried for. So it could be that he's being tried for the wrong thing. I had a friend in Boston who the night before I left, who had been involved in a very big case and it had gone to trial and he had won the case and we were having dinner, and he said the other side should have won the case, they should have won easily. I asked him why and he said, "They tried the wrong case, they didn't try the case on the facts. They tried a case that was ideological on larger issues not A, B the nitty gritty of how A, B, C, D and E can be connected."

JC     That's why I think that he cannot be found innocent. I cannot believe that the Attorney General, I think this is the case that has been chosen probably because they do have that link. Look, in the Goniwe inquest when I think back to that, the general who was in the dock, the link could not be established between the murder and himself, although he gave the order for it to happen, Van der Westhuizen, but the nexus, the link could not be established. But with the Malan trial I think an order was given and it would seem that the links of the chain are probably, because of the witnesses that they have, are probably all in place. So I would say that the chances of what happened in the Goniwe inquest are unlikely to happen again in this particular one.

     What we have in Port Elizabeth, it's interesting at the moment, the trial of those four security policemen who blew up the black security policemen in 1988 and during the Goniwe inquest a red herring was brought in by the SADF defence saying the police committed a crime and murdered people who could have given evidence in the Goniwe inquest and they are probably the same ones who assassinated Goniwe. Well that could not be established. I think probably they know now who did that assassination but we are now in PE at the moment, it's so interesting Padraig, we are now fleshing out the Goniwe case in a different case and I think that is what is going to be happening in this country. Bits of the jigsaw are slotting in in quite different spots and the broader picture is coming to life and I think the Magnus Malan case is part of the very important outline to that picture with an important specific charge and case being made to come to life. I can't imagine that he will not be found guilty but maybe next time I see you that will have happened but then we have to deal with that.

POM     Just finally, what hopes do you have for the Truth & Reconciliation Commission? Is a crime committed by somebody on behalf of the liberation of a people from extreme injustice, where recourse to violence was the only option or when all other remedies had been tried and failed, the same as crimes committed by the state in order to uphold that oppression?

JC     I think it's going to be, I think the Truth Commission, I think these next two years of its life are going to be very painful and very difficult and I hope when one looks back at it in ten years time, I hope that it's going to be seen as an exercise that was a healing one and not one that created more wounds. But what is quite interesting with the Truth Commission is that when I was having dinner with some friends the other night and they were saying, "What a bad idea it is, it's going backwards, it's looking back, we must move forward." And I said, "But you weren't damaged, you weren't involved, you weren't hurt, you aren't left in doubt as to who perpetrated terrible things against you and your family." But for the people themselves they seem to want it.

POM     When you say 'the people', that's?

JC     These are just little people that I deal with in my constituency.

POM     Not white people? White people don't want it by and large?

JC     By and large definitely not, only really people who fought against apartheid in an overt fashion realise how important it probably will be. The ordinary whites just see it as opening old wounds, more pain on the TV, and they are not really in favour of it. It's going to be difficult. I mean what does one do in a situation where in a little street in New Brighton you find out that your next door neighbour was an impimpi, was a traitor, and what will happen then? Will communities start within themselves eking retribution, so that is something that is going to take strong leadership to avoid and it's something also that maybe we need to start debating within the branches of the ANC and the communities and say, let's imagine situations that may occur that are going to be painful and how are we going to deal with them? I think people also have the unfortunate perception in many cases that there is going to be quite substantial financial reward coming out of it and I don't think that that is likely to be the case, so that is going to breed some resentment as well. On the whole I think it's going to be very interesting and quite painful and difficult because from what I read just the setting up of the administrative structures is fraught with problems. Mary Burton is having lunch with me next week, she is one of the commissioners, and I am looking forward to that to hear from her. You know I have some quite major questions for myself on how it's going to be taken forward.

POM     Would you tell her about the work I'm doing and whether she could consent to an interview before they get down to actual business? I'd like to do a few commissioners because to me it's going to be the most important thing that faces the country. It will be how the country defines itself.

JC     I certainly will. Her parents live in South America and she has gone over to see them for two weeks but she is having lunch with me next Tuesday, the 26th, and I will certainly mention it to her.

POM     If she says yes then I will send her on all the usual material and set it up at her convenience.

JC     OK, so you will be in touch with me to find out whether she will or not. OK. I will do that.

POM     Last, last question and thanks for the time, you make a great interview because you talk. Most people are very specific in their talking and worried about what they are saying and try to contain what they say and it's unusual to get somebody who just talks.

JC     Speaks freely. Well I'm just hoping nobody will read the book.

POM     At the rate I'm going it'll never even get written! I may see the Mbeki years through, then wait for Cyril to get his shot, then I'm gone.

JC     And Winnie.

POM     It was Hermann Giliomee who says that the Institute of Race Relations, in the speech he gave he said, "Currently in South Africa we have a political accord but no cultural accord." He was putting a lot of emphasis, which a lot of researchers in the area of identity have been doing in recent years, on the importance of culture as distinct from nationality. This is where language comes into the picture, that one of the badges of culture is language and the need to preserve one's language, one's customs and one's whatever. Do you think the Afrikaners have a case in their sense of being marginalised, not that they are not going to get their volkstaat, I don't think any of them really believe that any longer, but that their culture is being marginalised in the sense of being reduced to three hours on television or three percent of the time, that there will be no more Afrikaans medium universities which will diminish the language in the sense that before it was a living a language, it had a fiction, it published scientific papers, it did all of these things, and that time is running against it both in terms of their numbers and in terms of policy?

JC     I think time in the long term is running against it because it is a language that is only spoken by a section of people in one country and I think their fears do, I suppose, have some foundation. I think they have had so much for so long and they can't think of their future in other terms. When I think how we used to have to endure that terrible 'tickey-draai' music that used to go on (it's a bit like some Irish music but not as charming). So I think there was the Afrikaans programme and a lot of the English announcers even used to be speaking with a very strong Afrikaans accent, so they were so comfortable before, so the change is very, very traumatic and difficult for them. At the same time they won't lose their identity. It will never be lost but it will, I think, become more confined and enclosed except that the coloured community, which have their own identity, speak the language. So the language will remain alive and it's actually a nice language. It's a very expressive, wonderful poetry has been written in Afrikaans. It's wonderful to write poetry and to swear in. Those are it's two - it's a very expressive language.

POM     Van Zyl Slabbert, I don't know whether I mentioned it to you before, he told me once that he never met anyone who could use Afrikaans as beautifully as Eugene Terre'Blanche.

JC     Yes he speaks, I mean I don't speak anything like fluent Afrikaans but I can understand. Funnily enough he and Van Zyl Slabbert are two people I can understand every word they say. They speak such resonant, good Afrikaans. But when you think of in this country and throughout the world how the cultural aspects of a nation, well when you think of the Greeks and the Portuguese and the Jews and the dances and the bible and the music and the way of dress, those have remained throughout decades of the world really. There is no reason, but it may be that their funny games they play and the sort of old fashioned bonnets and things they connect up with the Voortrekker movement, those will become sort of museum pieces, but on the whole I think the Afrikaner will retain a special, and maybe in time their connections and the connotations that blacks have with it as the oppressor race which I think they are very forgiving and tolerant of anyway, will not be as strong and there will be almost an entertaining of the concept of Afrikanerdom as an important part of this country. If I was an Afrikaner I too would be concerned that my children and my children's children would still have something of the language and the culture that clearly is so important to them.

     But it's quite interesting because when you see, when we first came to parliament, there's a member of our health committee who is a big, burly Afrikaner and initially, maybe he's a little bit shy too, but he would not really participate, he wouldn't come on workshops and things or if he did he would sit over there. But we went to one in the Drakensburg at the end of January and he was sitting up boozing with some of the comrades until two o'clock in the morning and he's now become a friend and it's changed his attitude of immediate opposition to everything that is suggested from the ANC. He almost sometimes acts as a sort of peacemaker between the DP and the ANC which is quite fascinating and within this context friendships have formed that are quite important because they have an impact on policy making which is I suppose one of the great plusses that this parliament has. I don't think it happens like in the American Senate or in the British House of Commons but it is happening here that people have become friends across parties - if they are nice people. It's where nice people actually can score. If they are some of the more unattractive and militant types those are the ones that get marginalised and so it goes. It's an exercise in living really.

POM     Just on the way out of the door, from your more conservative colleagues was there any reaction to all the pictures of the Afrikaner era being removed from the walls and replaced first of all with the anti-apartheid art exhibition? Did it cause any comment or was it endured in silence?

JC     I haven't heard them complaining about the ones that were removed but I have heard quite substantial complaints about some of the ones that have come in, just because some of them are very strange. But funnily enough not really. I think there doesn't seem to have been heartache over that. Maybe I just haven't picked it up. I mean there are some of the pictures, like Helen Suzman, I would like to see Helen back on the wall, but some of those people were so dreadful that it's a much more welcoming and a much more alive; it's 'our place' now, it's not 'their place' as it was.

     Funnily enough I went into Tuynhuys to a meeting and they have still there got photographs of all those, it's a real rogues gallery of all those Vorster and Swart and Verwoerd and the rest of them lining the walls. I think people had got used to them here but it's much nicer not having them. Some of them are quite fine portraits and maybe they, I certainly think they have a place somewhere. They should be put somewhere because they are of interest and I think future generations will find them - it brings alive just the style. That one that used to hang in the old dining room of Verwoerd pointing to a map of South Africa, it was the whole social engineering bit, it's so instructive, just that picture tells you so much about. And they had such bad faces so many of them. They were real villains.

POM     OK. Thank you ever so much.

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.