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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

17 Apr 1996: Akhalwaya, Ameen

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POM     Ameen, maybe we could pick up your story just personally from the point where we last talked to you which was slightly after you joined the Agenda programme on SABC and you handled the presidential debates and then you moved on, or out, and where your life has led you to Cape Town, to the Olympic Committee. That's quite an Olympic trek.

AA     After the SABC, I actually left because I was quite disillusioned about what was happening there, just the lack of will to make the necessary changes, the corruption and all sorts of other things that were being overlooked. I left and I freelanced for a while. I assisted New Nation newspaper, for example, it was being redesigned; I assisted The Sowetan also with some training and production as well and then I got the ABSA Bank offer which was to be in charge of the Media Relational Department. I joined that in September 1995. I was there for six months, I was actually very happy there. It went through one of its worst crises which was over the Tollgate liquidation hearings. When I was there obviously they had the worst press but their share prices rocketed as well. When I was here for the Tollgate hearings I was approached by Chris Ball coincidentally who offered me this particular job of being Media Director of the Olympic Bid. I actually laughed at it and I thought it was a bit of a joke because I wasn't about to leave a job I had just started. It was a comfortable job and the first time I've actually had a cushy job where the salary was good and I had no complaints about the salary, I had no complaints about all the perks that were available, or the perks that would become available like share options and various other things. I was in a company with growth and suddenly being asked to leave a job like that where I was happy with the people I was working with as well, so it was ideal circumstances in which to work. So I just dismissed it out of hand although at the back of my mind was the fact that I started off in journalism specifically because of the type of injustices that were being perpetrated in our sport and the Rand Daily Mail at that time wrote about the fact that some our best cricketers in the world were being isolated internationally and what a tragedy it was, and I walked in one day there and said "Well that's great, we agree with that but what about us? We're not even allowed to play mixed cricket in our own country so we can't even qualify for our own country." And they said "Well we've got nobody to write about it". And I said "Fine, I'll do it", so that's how I started in journalism, writing about the political aspect in sport.

     When I went home my wife said "Don't just dismiss it out of hand, this is what you started with and this is what you want and you love your sport so let's think about it." So we thought long and hard, I consulted people in government as well about the risks involved because there are three stages to this, (a) is that the Cabinet comes up with its decision on 24th or 25th April, if the government doesn't underwrite it or sign the guarantees the entire bid collapses immediately. The second stage comes in March next year when the eleven candidates are then whittled down to a short list of four or five. If we don't pass that we close down then and then come September 1997 when the final decision will be made. So it has been quite a risk in terms of whether I should take it on, which is the reason why I consulted people in government. So the indications were that there's no question the government will underwrite it, obviously once all the guarantees from our side and the proper proposal is made. So that's why I decided to do it. I spoke to ABSA about it, I was very reluctant to leave. They then said it's up to me, they understand the importance for the country of winning the Olympic bid out here and if it's something I would like to do then they wouldn't stand in my way but they would take first option and they would ask me for first option that if I go back to Johannesburg after the bid collapses that I will accept ...

POM     If the bid collapses!

AA     So if I go back they will have some job for me. In that way the risk isn't that great. But I think the other important thing for me was the fact that my son has got cerebral palsy, we battled over many years. He did very well in Boston when he was two years old when we were there and they really looked after him but as soon as we came back again we ran headlong into the apartheid problems about which days of the week you could go to hospitals, there are no schools available for him and even after the schools were open, the private schools, my wife and I took a political decision at the time not to send him to a private school simply because when we were writing trying to expose the apartheid education system I was in no position to tell parents or advise parents from my perspective about fighting the apartheid system if I had children in private schools and they were getting far better education and they weren't going through the bad conditions at the government schools then. But the problem was that we just couldn't put him into a private school and here we have been able to get him into a very good private school where they have undertaken to look after him as well so that has been a very important factor in our moving. Had we not had that then I don't think we would have moved to Cape Town. So that has been a very significant part of it.

POM     Have you become a converted Capetonian or are you still from Jo'burg at heart?

AA     Not yet. I've been so often to Cape Town but I don't regard it as my second home. I always regard Dublin as my second home. I don't know, for some reason I've always got that association. I feel very much at home in Cape Town and incidentally it's come full circle because my paternal grandfather when he came from India landed in Cape Town, that was his first port of all in 1889 or whatever, and for the life of me I couldn't understand why he took the great trek to Johannesburg. So in that way there is that attachment. I have still got family here and friends as well, so the move in that sense hasn't been difficult.

POM     I remember the first time we met was in this small cramped office in Lenasia.

AA     The good old days in the bad old days.

POM     Your life appears to be very different now and in a way monitors many of the changes that have taken place in the country. A couple of questions: one, has change occurred, first of all at the political level, quicker than you would have thought in 1990? Two, how have these changes affected your life and the lives of your friends and people that you have associated with over the course of your own lifetime. Three, what difference have the last couple of years really made to the person who lives in Khayelitsha or Soweto or Orange Farm or any of the innumerable squatter camps that have since dotted the scene and that are proliferating rather than diminishing in number?

AA     I think the political changes, I can't remember what I actually told you way back in 1993 or 1990, but I think if you're talking about the post 1994 era, are you talking about after the elections?

POM     Yes.

AA     I think they settled down much more quickly than I expected. I think the stability has come much more quickly. I think also the obvious credit goes to President Mandela, his whole conciliatory process but, of course, I think it's been at a price. The criticism that has been levelled at him that he's been pandering to whites more than looking after black interests, I know that hurts him. I know this went back as far as just after he became President when he had just black journalists and that's exactly the question he tried to answer and he explained why it was important to appease white people at that particular time. So I think the credit goes to him for that, there is no doubt about it, for the stability which was the most important thing. What I am concerned about is the failure of government to carry out its promises. I know we expect politicians never to carry out their promises but I think we expected something different from the ANC when they said that they would try to build a million houses within five years. We didn't expect that they were actually going to build a million houses because it's a mammoth task to do that but we thought that at least the programme will be substantially under way to build that. That really hasn't happened for whatever reasons, whether Building Societies or big business or anybody else is responsible for that I think is not relevant. The fact is that it has not happened and the government was on a roll coming into power at that time and I think that with the goodwill that came with that, with the excitement that came with it, that is the time that they should have done it. But it's never too late but I just don't see their programmes.

     I think it comes back to your fourth question about Khayelitsha and the people of Soweto and so forth, materially I don't think it has changed their lives, not at this stage. Again I think that is also expecting too much for there to be significant material changes in their own circumstances where they are now earning more and more jobs have suddenly become available, that type of thing, because you have to remember at this stage the government has been in power for less than two years and apart from that the housing delivery which I am concerned about.

     I think they have done well on the health front, the programmes that they are putting up, the free health care programmes. They have done well in other spheres such as sport, things that may not seem important but are important to people's lives. I think the most significant thing that also applies to people of Khayelitsha, Soweto and so forth, I think it was summed up in a BBC or one of the foreign radio interviews where the guy went and said, "You see but now Mandela is in parliament and you've got Joe Slovo sitting in parliament at that time and everybody else and you're still living in a shack", and this person said, "I don't really care, Madiba is there, he is sitting in Pretoria". And I think the symbolism, the emotional attachment, the pride that goes with now finally having succeeded in getting your own government, that has been very important. What is going to happen in the next year or two, obviously when delivery isn't speeded up, is that you are going to get greater disillusionment.

POM     With regard to your own life or the lives of your friends in terms of opportunities, changes in lifestyle, have there been significant changes?

AA     In terms of my own life, in terms of my job type of thing, I actually found that post-apartheid with some of my old friends sitting in charge in the SABC, my career took a nose-dive rather than improving it, which was the biggest shock that ever hit me, that I found that people I had worked with for so many years suddenly weren't bothered about me and were actually stabbing me in the back, and the people who were trying to get me out of the SABC, the old apartheid crowd, were the people who were actually being promoted out there. That came as one hell of a shock, not in a political sense but just in a human sense in terms of friendship and so forth. But I have been able to overcome that. Initially it hurt a lot when the reality of what had happened hit me.

     Socially our lifestyle has changed to an extent in the sense that we moved out of Lenasia to be closer to the SABC so I moved into one of the leafier northern suburbs closer to work, traditionally all-white area. My children's schooling, for example, had improved at the school that they went to, that improved. Our own circle widened but in our actual lifestyle there wasn't that much of a change. What did change was the excitement of now being able to do what you really wanted, being able to go out where you wanted on a social level. I think with a lot of my friends, mostly middle class people, they were very sceptical initially and I still think they are, not sceptical in the sense that they feel demoralised about their own circumstances, their lifestyle as middle class people had started improving a few years back, so those who have been out of Lenasia are happier where they are, they are now closer to work and so forth and they are closer to much more facilities. So, again, on the social level their life has improved and it has taken them a little longer to realise what has really happened in terms of apartheid suddenly going. So those adjustments haven't really hit them.

     Where they have been concerned is really with the crime rate as it becomes the biggest problem and then of course you blame the government for that, rightly or wrongly. On that level there is demoralisation but we find middle class people generally, old farts like myself, we're not really happy with anything that goes along if it disturbs our comfort a little bit. But if you actually sit down with people and talk to them and say look where we are now, where were you a few years ago, what type of house were you living in Lenasia, what type of house did you live in Sophiatown or Fordsburg or Vrededorp where you came from, and you find that people will then agree, yes, we've come a long way, type of thing.

     On the political level also there was some disillusion in the sense that look at all our people, by 'our people' they meant Indians or Muslims or whatever who were involved in the struggle and suddenly find that we haven't got positions in key places, until you actually sit down and start pointing out to them who is actually sitting in Cabinet here, at what level of government are they, at all levels of government. And the argument comes, "Those are not really our people", you see, not their own choice type of thing, so you always get that type of cynicism that comes along. I think overall people have been happy, the crime rate apart. As you know Jo'burg has become a siege city and we still live within prisons and that is the type of thing that people feel uncomfortable with, that we have made adjustments out here but not here, this is where the real problem is.

POM     Do you think the Truth & Reconciliation Commission can work or that, as some people have argued, justice should be allowed to take its course and that somehow the Truth Commission wittingly or unwittingly seems to equate violence against apartheid as being the moral equivalent, there's no moral difference between violence used by people who fought apartheid and violence used by people to uphold the apartheid state, that in fact you move too much in the direction of reconciliation which if it's too easy on the whites is a false reconciliation, it comes without any pain or cost, it just says yes I did these nasty things and I'm really sorry and I won't do them again, OK? OK now I'll get on with my life, that's over. That it raises troubling questions about the way the past must be dealt with and whether this is the best way to deal with it?

AA     I also think it's a cop out probably on my part but it's a very difficult question. My own view, sort of very generalised view, is that (a) you can't equate the two, the fight against apartheid and the fight to keep an evil system going. I would question some of the methods and if the ANC or any of the other liberation movements are honest enough to say that there were excesses that were carried out not in our name, for example if operatives of any of the liberation movements have exceeded their authority and gone around killing people when that was not what they had been told to do, then obviously they have to take action against the people who were there and take some responsibility for it as well because at that time nobody would take responsibility, or would take responsibility if they thought that any sabotage or any violent act had a positive spin-off for them. If the ANC's viewpoint, or the other liberation movements' viewpoint at that time, was that we will have to go for innocent targets I wouldn't actually agree with it morally and I would question that very much but I think that there's a difference between equal treatment of the culprits on either side, an equitable treatment. It's very vague, I don't know how to define it any better than that.

     For example, I will just go back to the elections where we had to distinguish between equal and equitable coverage of political parties in the elections where we knew that these were the major parties and couldn't expect the ANC and the National Party and the IFP to be given equal coverage with KISS and a whole lot of peripheral parties that had come up, so we settled for equitable that we would recognise and this was a major one and these are the sort of minor shows. I am trying to do that particular distinction very uncomfortably between what I would say that those carried out in the name of apartheid were much more horrendous than those that were carried out in the name of liberation, but I'm very uncomfortable with it, that type of distinction that I make. But I think, as I go back, that those who did exceed their authority and did go around killing innocent people at random, there was no strategic plan that today the ANC's policy was that you go and throw a bomb in Cape Town station without any strategy behind it, just a mindless type of act or just to remind the authorities that we exist. I think that they have to be called to account for a thing like that. The same thing that goes for apartheid where this was systematically planned, the violence that was planned, although some its operatives may have exceeded the authority of people higher up, I don't really think so because the way the state of emergency and everything else before that as well, they were given virtual blanket authority to do what they want to with black people and with anybody else for that matter.

     So, I don't know. I think the Truth Commission is important, there is no doubt that we have to cleanse ourselves of our past. I would have taken it more on what I think is the Islamic line, is that if you are a victim, the victim or the victim's family can ask for compensation and then forgiveness and I think that is more or less what the Mxenge and Biko families in a very broad sense are trying to do. I think even with the truth commissions that have started where I think one of the families or one of the victim's sisters said yesterday that, "Who must I forgive? I am prepared to forgive but I don't know whom to forgive." And I think it's something along those lines. So if we are able to trace the victims, people are able to get rid of the past but I don't think that there should be a blanket amnesty.

     The one argument is that if you are not going to have a blanket amnesty people are not going to come forward but that is a challenge to any legal system that if there are going to be victims and there are perpetrators it is up to that system to be able to track down the perpetrators. If they are able to get General Malan now in court because they have sufficient evidence, he is somebody that came from the very top, I don't see why it can't be done systematically lower down. The blanket amnesty is something I'm not very happy about. I thought they would have had some mechanisms, and I know it's going to the Constitutional Court now for some decision on whether or not victims would still be able to claim compensation, so that hasn't been clarified yet.

POM     You raised General Malan and this is my question, what if he and the other generals are all found innocent? Will that create a backlash in the black community or will it be accepted that the case was tried and the facts didn't stand up or could you have a Rodney King-like situation that resulted in the States when Rodney King got beaten up on video by the police and a white jury found him innocent and half of Los Angeles burned down? Now the responses I've got from people is, from a woman who I would call Black Sash, liberal type said, "They can't find him innocent, he's guilty. It just boggles the mind so I can't answer the question because he's guilty." Two, a Deputy Minister today who said, "Well the evidence is so thin the case is going to get thrown out anyway." This has not assumed yet the show - it has the potential for being far more divisive in terms of an outcome.

AA     I don't know, if they are found not guilty, not necessarily innocent, but if they are found not guilty I don't think that there's going to be a backlash. I think broadly in terms of the black communities the fact that people who were responsible and who had ordered worse things than Malan did are sitting out in George, like PW Botha and others sitting in parliament and sitting in Cabinet, who actually were his superiors, have been forgiven and are sitting in the government of national unity, I don't think finding Malan not guilty is going to have much of an impact. It may have an impact on the other side in that some of the whites who are against the ANC could justifiably say that this was just a little witch-hunt and this was vindictiveness on his part. And yet there were others who could then argue that it had nothing to do with vindictiveness, it's merely vindicated the democracy that we're in, that people were tried and here's a court that has listened to all the evidence and have found them not guilty, so it reinforces faith in the courts if it comes to that. So I don't think really that there's going to be much of a fallout.

POM     What happens to black anger with the past? One always hears how forgiving blacks are towards whites and certainly we've seen nothing to the contrary while we've been here for seven years, yet the level of crime in black areas and this disregard for life is like one of the worst in the world so on the one hand there seems to be this magnificent humanity and on the other hand this terrifying inhumanity. Where does all the anger go, how is it being channelled, what's being done with it? It has to be there, it has to reflect itself ultimately in some way.

AA     I think again it's because our democracy is far too young because with the excitement created with the changes and so forth, so all the negative sides of people's lives haven't manifested themselves or they have not gelled together to say this is really what we're after. It was something that the PAC or perhaps AZAPO could have done to be able to channel people's disillusionment, disenchantment, into one cohesive audience and said that this is what it's all about. So at the moment it's still too early because unemployment has been there and unemployment isn't really going up substantially, so the people who are affected by it - there are not substantially more people out there who are unemployed as far as I know and your conditions if they haven't improved that much materially they certainly haven't deteriorated that much materially.

     So again it comes back to the initial excitement and the emotion of seeing Mandela sitting out in power. But obviously I think it has to come at some time. At this stage I don't see any organised backlash against white people as a group in a way that says you are going to get groups of black people who are going out specifically to attack specific groups of white people. I think it will manifest itself in random crime and so forth and justification of criminal acts on the basis of race, which has been happening in any case. I think that will probably happen on a much bigger scale. If things start deteriorating then I think in social relations it is going to become much more difficult because any little action is going to be seen as a racist action and you react violently which people are not doing that much at the moment in our one-on-one situations.

POM     Just to use the word 'racism' there, taking what appears to be this increasing acrimony between the ANC and what are called white liberals culminating in the now famous debate between Barney Pityana and Dennis Davies, one, and two, the feeling that one senses that the ANC is beginning to flex its muscles a lot more by saying this government of national unity is just getting in the way of us doing the things we need to do to push this country ahead, therefore we pay more lip service to it but essentially we're the majority and we're going to assert ourselves as the majority increasingly and you like it or you leave it, but that's the situation and we are going to become an African country, our institutions are going to reflect the demographics of the population and like it or leave it, this is the way it's going to be, which raise a host of other issues. First, what do you think accounts for the acrimony between the ANC or blacks or black intellectuals, black elites and 'white liberals'.

AA     Here my sympathies are with the black elite. What has been happening is that the liberals in this country are those who went under the label of liberals who were obviously uncomfortable with the system as it prevailed, the apartheid system, without being able to distance themselves totally from what was going on. You always found, for example, they would say, yes apartheid is evil, but they would condemn the ANC or its methods or any of the liberation movements. They couldn't bring themselves to support liberation completely on the one hand. Now that you've got a change of government the very people they didn't support are the people who are in power and they feel alienated from that power structure as well. So they were homeless really under apartheid, they are homeless now under the new system. There is this arrogance on a large part of them, you will find that in private discussions, "Well you know blacks are not really capable of doing it, we know best".

     This manifested itself very much in what happened in my case, I am taking this personally. When I was at the SABC suddenly articles started appearing in the newspapers, the same liberal newspapers that were supposed to be championing democracy, absolute lies, not even an attempt to get my side of the story. The Sunday Times, for example, ran a big story saying that there had been a motion of no confidence in me by members of my staff, and nothing like that had happened, and yet when we asked them to correct it they refused, they just bluntly refused. Now if it had been an isolated incident in my case I would have said, "Well tough this is the media", but a few weeks before that they went for Justice Madlala, something similar happened. They leak a story, unsourced, hiding behind the usual sources, I think he was going to be appointed to the Constitutional Court or something or the other, I can't remember exactly where, or he was going to be promoted higher up, and the same type of article, so-called lawyers, "He's not good enough, he's a black appointee", all of that, and in that particular instance The Sunday Times had published a front page story the following week saying that there had been angry reaction from black lawyers about this. They went for Fatima Meer on the same basis. They went for a whole lot of people virtually in successive weeks. This is supposedly the most liberal newspaper. This was to smear blacks and it was clear, I mean there wasn't even any doubt what they were trying to do, to smear all black people in very senior positions. These are the liberals who couldn't stand the fact that suddenly black people were now moving into positions above them or more influential positions than they had.

     It keeps on going, like I was saying earlier, you can hear this in private discussions all the time, the same thing. If you look at what happened immediately after the government of national unity was established, they kept on going for the ANC, going for the ANC that they're not doing this, without even giving them the slightest chance to actually get into office, to find out what the hell it's all about and then start implementing things. It was constant carping and criticism. OK once or twice they get it right like in the case of Eugene Nyati on the gravy train, but even this whole question of gravy train, that everybody is earning huge sums of money, without even trying to look, for example, into the taxes that the MPs have to pay, the fact that they have to have two houses in cities 1000 miles apart, what the costs are, where the children or family dislocation, it's suddenly become a gravy train without looking at what they themselves are earning, what captains of industry are earning out there who happen to be white mostly. So it's constant aim is at discrediting black people in power. They only thing that they have actually done is to praise President Mandela to the skies, it was simply because he's not affecting their comfort zones because he's always having this conciliatory approach towards them and every now and again he does get angry. But you saw what happened at Wits? I don't know who's right or wrong.

POM     I was going to ask you about that. What does the resolution or the irresolution really of that whole affair say about the state of race relations? Now one can read it two ways I think, basically, to simplify something that is not simple at all. Professor Makgoba may have embellished his CV a little bit here and there and God knows everyone does that, and no-one would hold it against a bright black person for pushing ahead doing that. It's no big deal. Two, he may have made serious misrepresentations on his CV which if you lived in Dublin or London or wherever and you had applied for a position and it emerged that your CV had serious fabrications in it, you would have to step down. Period. There wouldn't be any question about it. Yet the issue crystallised in a different way, that again it was white liberals out to get a black man who was intent on transforming the institution in ways that they didn't like. Do you think that was a correct reading of the situation or do you think that in the end we all deserve to know more about what the truth is? Did he just make statements that could lend themselves to misunderstanding? What the hell does that mean? Or did he make serious representations that would in fact, by 'our' standards require him to stand down, or are there difference in standards? Is part of what's going on here that there are different values being applied, that we have our western, liberal values and stick them in everything and tend to look at everything through the prism of those values whereas in emerging African nations there are different norms, different cultures and different ways of looking at things and different values that are put on things, like his CV?

AA     If it was a case of serious misrepresentation, if it's fraudulent then obviously it's a criminal affair. Now if he did misrepresent himself to such an extent that he was given the position on the strength of the qualifications he claimed, which didn't exist, then obviously it was grounds for dismissal and grounds for taking legal action against him, criminal action. But at the same time it reflects very badly on Wits, were they in such a hurry to appoint a black person out there without checking his credentials properly? Surely Makgoba didn't fall out of the sky and they said, "Well here's this guy and we have heard that this guy is very good." Surely an academic institution of that repute and that importance would have taken precautions, would have checked out all sorts of people, would have checked out references before employing somebody in such an important institution? So it reflects very badly on its recruitment policy and again the question remains open, was he recruited just as a black face? Once he had been recruited why did the questions against him start?

     If you get Charles von Onselen's letter to Natal University, I forget the exact wording, was it a social enquiry or something of the sort, why suddenly does liberalism mean that the means justify the ends? Or the other way round, that you have to lie or not tell the truth in making such an enquiry about the reason that you want. We are talking about democracy where people are open. Surely you are entitled to get details and facts from academic institutions. I don't think either side came out with credit. I don't think it's a question of standards, but what I would question is that had Makgoba not been black would the same enthusiasm have been part of this hunt to track down his CV and to check it out? That was the whole suspicious case and to me it comes back to this particular issue that in trying to discredit blacks that every time a black person gets in, don't give him a chance to get established and immediately start attacking. In his case he was already being attacked before he even had a chance to take over. And, yes, there was justification but, no, I will not agree with the methods and the recruitment system.

POM     The ANC say quite frequently, in fact Mandela himself has I think said on the occasion of an interview he gave on his 500th day after his release, that the media were controlled by white people and there was still a very strong element of racism in the media. One, do you agree with that and, two, are you not setting up a situation of where if you blame everything on racism you stifle critical enquiry? Because I disagree with you it doesn't necessarily mean that I am racist but you certainly have a way of stopping me from criticising you by saying you're just a bloody racist. Then I will say it's not worth the effort, I'll keep my mouth shut.

AA     Having said that about my own case and the others, the blatant attack on racism, I was talking of the liberals more there. That doesn't really mean that you attack the media and say the media has to be changed in the sense that those who are owning the media now or the editors have to be changed. I think the challenge is to be able to empower black people to be able to try to start their own media or to take control of the media. But I think ANC being politicians it's a convenient scapegoat. The media is always a convenient scapegoat. Quite honestly what you have seen in the media over the last five or six years, I am just absolutely appalled. People like Ken Owen whose newspaper is just as culpable, or probably more culpable than anybody else about the type of black trashing that they've been undertaking, talks about the appalling standards of journalism. I think all of us understand that the standards of journalism in this country have dropped alarmingly. But there is no real desire on anybody's part. What has the ANC actually done in order to assist people, black people, to be trained as better journalists? Very little. They have to start getting those things right as well. My own view is that you don't knock down the media and suddenly start changing it, you create more media. That is what democracy is all about.

     Again, what I did a few years back, which didn't go down well with the ANC, my criticism was not levelled about the structure of our media, it was not levelled at the ownership of the current media, my attack was on the advertising agencies who I said at that particular time, it caused a bit of an uproar amongst the advertising agencies, was that the agencies themselves were staffed a lot by foreigners out there who only saw the life around Sandton, around the northern suburbs area. They didn't give a damn about the existence or even know about the existence of The Indicator, they didn't care about New Nation, the didn't care about the alternative press at all despite the fact that we were viable publications that were reaching a target audience. And those were the people who were making or breaking the media, not the major groups. The major groups did have control of printing processes and distribution and so forth. To me those were not problems that couldn't be overcome through negotiation. The real problem was that your newspaper could not survive if you didn't have the advertising support and that really is what it was all about.

     I still hold to that viewpoint and I still believe that if you're going to have more black people as editors it's going to change the focus, you're going to have much more empathy with black problems in mainstream newspapers. For politicians to suddenly start targeting the media, it's a world-wide problem and I wouldn't set too much store on it and I don't think at this particular stage that there's any threat against the media from the ANC. I think President Mandela, with due respect, he's sabre rattling and people do get unhappy. I know Thabo Mbeki has had a very lousy press for some reason I've never been able to fathom because I don't think Thabo has really put a foot wrong because he doesn't appear that much in public and has not been making that many public decisions or visible decisions for him to come under attack in this way, and if he's being groomed to take over as President I just don't see any reason why he should be in the public eye all the time. So there are things like that but that is the problem of the media public relations departments of those ministries and those politicians.

POM     Essop Pahad had a shot at the media with regard to Thabo saying there was some covert conspiracy there to undermine him because his publicity was constantly so negative. Again, it was like a black man can't do the job. Do you think some of that is going on all the time?

AA     Some of it may, also from what I said earlier, that when they start trashing black people in positions of power, but I don't think in Thabo's case - a lot of it came out of cartoon strips that were lampooning him and there were a couple of editorials that were a little unfair. There wasn't any real attack on Thabo's abilities or what he was or wasn't doing. It was just a general perception that was created that Thabo really wasn't doing much of a job out there. So I think they were more worried about image rather than substance and I think some of the criticism may have been unjustified but I think in this particular instance where there were no allegations of wrong-doing on his part there may have been over-reaction on their part. Again, the challenge is on his particular staff to be able to change that image if it comes to that.

POM     What about the issue of corruption? You had the IDASA poll that was released some months ago that indicated that at least according to their sample, that the majority of people thought that the current government was more corrupt than the previous government, which resulted in all kinds of reactions. One, is corruption per se a problem or is the corruption an inherited corruption that will take years to weed out or is there a kind of a culture of corruption that is going to take, again, years to weed out or is corruption in an African sense something quite different than what it is in western sense? I mean this extended belief that when you're in power you may only get one shot at it so you've got to look after your entire clan, not just do a job.

AA     No, the last question first, I don't think there is any difference in cultures or anything of the sort. I haven't seen the IDASA poll, what the racial breakdown of the respondents was or anything, but my own guess is that what I was talking about earlier in terms of middle class attitudes, they pretty well go right across the board whether it's Indians, Coloureds, whites or blacks. When they say they can't see anything right anywhere down the line this is where they're going to start looking for scapegoats. Oh well, you see the government is more corrupt, you see nothing is running any more, the crime rate is higher, this is worse than it was, type of thing, which is that type of attitude.

     I doubt very much whether this is a general perception amongst people all over. I think politics in terms of corruption, I think there is corruption in just about every country in the world. I don't think that there's anything more or less and I don't think anybody would be shocked by corruption. What I would find surprising is that the ANC, for example, having fought on a very moral basis, it's whole liberation fight was on a very moral basis about democracy and so forth and you suddenly find that people are being found out for being so corrupt. I think it's a healthy development in the fact that they are being found out but the fact is that far too many people are being found out, that that is where the problem arises. It doesn't come as a shock to me and I doubt very much that it's worse than it was previously. I certainly don't know how to measure that because you only find out about corruption once it's uncovered so we don't know what's going on behind the scenes. I think in terms of in most cases where there has been a willingness to tackle it and root it out, whereas in the past they would promote people who were found to be corrupt whereas here they are taking some action against them, not always. I don't know about the Sarafina 2, I don't know whether there was corruption involved in that particular production but certainly the way the ANC has handled it with huge amounts of money being put into a play, would that be part of corruption or not? But I don't think the ANC acquitted themselves well in handling that particular issue.

POM     Buthelezi, number one, and whether the ANC are seriously under-estimating the capacity for the total eruption of KwaZulu/Natal, that's one. And two, Afrikaners, this whole issue of mother tongue education which is being condemned by the ANC as being covert racism or a covert way of bringing about segregated schools. Is the ANC, in the second case, not really understanding the importance of language to identity and not understanding the importance of culture, cultural identity as distinct from political identity and that language to an Afrikaner may be a far more important thing than a volkstaat? That language is something that - is that you're a small group and your language is something that you hang on to and you want to transfer to your children and whatever. Knowing that the Afrikaner or the right doesn't appear to be a threat any more, that they can out-manoeuvre them or whatever, are they marginalising Afrikaners, saying come along or else?

AA     I don't think they are marginalising Afrikaners as such, they may be marginalising Afrikaans as an official language or trying to underplay it's previous equal status because it's not only white Afrikaners who speak the language, there are a lot of black people especially in the Western Cape and the Northern Province who do speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue. So I don't think that they are under-estimating on that. I think what the ANC has looked at is the justification that some of the Afrikaners are using for keeping black people out of the institutions as an excuse, as a political weapon. So I think that is where the ANC is looking at it from. I think it may be under-estimating in a sense the attachment that Afrikaners have to the language, the Afrikaners who really care about the language. But I think most of the language may not be as important to a lot of people in parliament, the ANC people, especially those who have been in exile and so forth, who now speak English and have been able to accept that type of cultural adjustment. So it's not always that difficult, it's more difficult for them to understand the language attachment.

     But I think at the same time we also have to remember that quite apart from the political weapon that some of the Afrikaners are using, urbanised Afrikaners don't seem to have a problem with the language. So the ANC people are coming into contact with Afrikaners, their political peers and so forth, so they don't see anything further than that because most of the guys in parliament are going to speak English and you find that most of the Afrikaans politicians, white Afrikaans politicians are speaking English as well. You will find in business Afrikaners are speaking English increasingly and using it as a main language. We found that at the SABC, as soon as I got there, the place had been run by Afrikaners all these years, suddenly they decided because we've got one or two foreign observers as an excuse, well let's have our internal communications in English now, and these were the Afrikaners who have for donkey's years been pushing Afrikaans as their mother tongue and apartheid had to be preserved because of Afrikaans and so forth, suddenly became very adaptable. So there is a lot of that type of sentimental nonsense that comes from some people out there. You see they are underestimating the attachment but I don't think that they see that in sufficient numbers to see that as any sort of political threat.

POM     Thinking of it in terms of, say, Quebec and French, a bilingual society to all intents and purposes, yet language arouses not just intense emotions, it could lead to the break up of the whole country. You have the United States where the whole emphasis is on multi-culturalism. If you're an Hispanic speaking person you have the right to demand education in your mother tongue because they will produce all kinds of studies showing that the disadvantaged Spanish speaking children suffer from if they are required to do a curriculum in English when their custom and their culture and their language is Spanish, it makes them poor students. And yet here in an odd way there is the opposite trend, homogenise rather than saying your language is - yes you do have a right to education in your mother tongue provided it's not used as an excuse to keep people out. Do you know what I mean? You know what I'm getting at?

AA     Yes. I think in the Quebec case I'm merely guessing because I'm not 100% familiar with all the subtleties of that situation. I will say that it's a much more organised, identifiable society. You are choosing between English and French and obviously they are trying to put French first as part of their cultural identity and if within a big state you are able to speak French it may be an advantage to you rather than a disadvantage.

     What is happening out here for example I would guess, I am not in a position to speak for a hell of a lot of black people, but I would guess that most of them would prefer their children to be educated in English not because they think that their language is inferior to the other languages but for the simple reason that it's the language of economy. If you are going to progress, if you are living out in Northern Province and you're an Afrikaans speaker out there your promotion may just be seen to be within that limited space rather than in broader terms. So that type of attachment to language isn't that great. In fact they would rather prefer English because it shows you an advance.

     I would say that also happened to a lot of the Indian people in this country who have lost their home languages because they had to adapt to the economy and economic requirements and so forth and at the expense of their own language they would rather embrace another language. Now as you get older, people like myself, you wonder sometimes, perhaps we should have taught our children some of those languages because now the country is opening up and we have more contact. But then you look at it in the longer term and you say, but how the hell is it going to help them in any case? Have they lost anything substantially in terms of their culture? What is their culture? Is their culture linked to India or somewhere? And it isn't, their culture is much more an English speaking South African culture. Are they worse people? Are they better people? You don't think that they are worse people and so forth. That type of question is always going to arise. I think again the point I am trying to make here is that if you feel that your language isn't that important an issue, that your greater social progress or any other progress means that you may have to dispense with your language or keep your own language on the back-burner, I don't think it's a problem to so many people.

     So that is I think what I'm talking about, the overall picture of people who are in parliament, that may be one of the reasons why I am saying that they don't really understand that type of attachment. But that type of language, the passion for their language is confined to a very small group. Here in the Western Cape, for example, where Afrikaans I think used to predominate once upon a time, during the seventies and so forth the political upheavals Afrikaans certainly became the language of the oppressor even though there were Coloured people here who claim quite rightly that it wasn't the language of the oppressor, this was our language that was brought here by slaves from Indonesia and other places and it had been taken over by the white Afrikaners. But still it became a language of the oppressor and fewer started speaking Afrikaans here and the trend hasn't reversed. I don't think the people who spoke Afrikaans then, Coloured people who spoke Afrikaans and no longer speak Afrikaans, suddenly feel a great desire to be able to go and speak Afrikaans properly and thoroughly as their language of communication. So I think this type of thing is adaptable.

POM     Buthelezi, does he continue to be a time bomb and a time bomb that's not understood? For example, no-one disputes the fact that 19th April 1994 that Mandela, De Klerk and himself signed this Memorandum of Understanding in which the ANC and the NP gave their undertaking that issues that could not be resolved would be referred to international mediation and he said because of that he came into the elections and the Kenyan who brokered the deal has come out publicly and said the moral right, at least on this issue, stands with Buthelezi and the other two parties should honour their agreement. Yet the great reconciler, the man who can bend over backwards to accommodate people, on this issue will not do so. Why not call the damn mediator in, sit him down, he hears everybody out for three hours, he looks round the table and says, "There's nothing to mediate, I'm on my way out of here." And then you can say we kept our bargain. Why in this instance would Mandela not, do you think, honour his word or his commitment?

AA     I find it very difficult to understand, I really do. I think that the ANC and the NP have this moral obligation. There is no question of that. But one of the excuses, I don't know if it's an excuse or if it's a valid reason, I really haven't delved deeply into it, is that they are saying that they haven't actually specified what issues they want mediated. Now whether that is true I don't know, but all I can say is that yes morally I would say that Buthelezi has a case. I know I was involved at the time with all TV debates and everything else that we had and we were getting things behind the scenes. Yes the ANC and the NP have a moral obligation to him.

POM     Are they misunderstanding him still?

AA     I don't think so. I think the experience has been that what happened with the right wing, when they waited long enough instead of shooting other people they ended up shooting themselves in the foot. I think that the ANC probably believes that the same thing is going to happen to Buthelezi but I think there they are making a serious mistake because Buthelezi is not the right wing and the amount of people whom he can call on for support is vast, not like the rag-tag Afrikaner band that we had for the right wing who lost the people because I guess that they all want to be part of the economy and the new scale, they don't want to get left, they have talks and they quickly jumped onto the bandwagon. But I think that KwaZulu/Natal is a different issue altogether and I still think that they are under-estimating him at their peril.

POM     At their peril?

AA     Yes, because they keep on thinking, well it's going to happen and Buthelezi can be co-opted and he will disappear and as he gets older or if he disappears somebody else will come and the issue won't be the same. But I think the truth is that if you look at some of the history in KwaZulu/Natal a lot of these faction fights there have their origins in squabbles that took place a century or more ago and those things last and to have lasted that long you're not going to wave a magic wand in KwaZulu/Natal and think that if Buthelezi goes that if somebody else takes over suddenly all those things are going to disappear. They won't.

POM     The greatest threat to the future as you go into the 21st century? What's the greatest threat to the development of democracy?

AA     The IOC not giving the Olympics to Cape Town.

POM     OK, thanks very 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.