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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

18 Apr 1996: Kathrada, Ahmed

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POM     Mr Kathrada, one thing that struck me reading President Mandela's autobiography was that the prisoners on Robben Island were treated with a certain degree, or appeared to have been treated with a certain degree of respect by the authorities there, like they didn't abuse you or mistreat you in a physical way. Is that true?

AK     Well the one thing is true that we were never - let me just refer to the Rivonia group, and that's the original Rivonia group because two others were joined in with us Motsoledi and Mlangeni, they were not arrested at Rivonia but I include them because they were tortured by the police, not in prison, and they were sentenced with us. So when I talk of the Rivonia group I am talking of the core group. We were never physically manhandled or mishandled either by the police or the prison authorities. And of course because Mr Mandela was there and other well known leaders they did sort of try to treat us with some respect, or they had to show that at least, they may not have felt it. On the other hand in some ways we were disadvantaged even more than our colleagues in the political section of the prison. They were more strict with us, they wanted to keep more things away from us. Our censorship was worse, censorship of letters was worse, the monitoring of our visits was worse, much more strict than it was with other prisoners. For instance, when the difficult prisoners from the general cells, from the communal cells used to have their visits twenty of them had a visit at the same time. With us, or with some of the people in our section, the Rivonia group again, they would supervise each visit individually. In other words they would have a warder on our side and a warder on the side of the visitors.

POM     So that everything you said would be overheard and monitored?

AK     Everything, yes, apart from the recordings they made they also made tape recordings of the visits. We know that because at Pollsmoor they made a mistake and gave us - you know what had happened at Pollsmoor is that at the beginning when they said they were going to allow us radio news, now on Robben Island they had this system whereby they used to have this news broadcast, censored news, they used to take it and censor it and broadcast it. They didn't have that facility at Pollsmoor so they started off by giving us tape recordings of censored news. They gave us a radio which we used to play and one day they made the mistake of giving us a tape which was a tape recording of a visit. So we knew. This is just one example, but we knew they were tape recording the visitors. So what I am trying to say is that on the one hand while they tried to show some respect they in fact also treated us more severely in many respects, more strictly than the others. Our isolation was more complete than the rest of the prisoners. There were no special facilities that we enjoyed different from the other prisoners.

POM     Were you confined to your cells for other than the period you were working or that you had an exercise period or was there any freedom of movement that developed over the years where you would have access to other prisoners within the cell block itself?

AK     No, what had happened, for instance, is that when we used to go out to work at the quarry and when we had to walk, before we left the prison the warders would precede us and clear the road of any other prisoners, common law prisoners or political, and there were a lot of trees so they would hide them there so that we shouldn't look at them. So they did that to complete the isolation. Now what was the question?

POM     Did you get any chance to intermingle with each other?

AK     Oh yes. Now at the beginning when they started with film shows they had the film shows in the general cells so what they would do, it was one hall and at that time of course there were common law prisoners mixed up with the politicals in the general cells, so on a Saturday morning they would take us to the general cells but they would take us when everybody was seated and when it was dark. They would take us and they would have a certain number of seats just for us but they wouldn't allow us to talk to anybody. But that just happened a few times and then, of course, they brought projectors and so forth so that we could see the films in our section. So we were never allowed really to mingle. Then after 1976, after the Soweto uprising when a new lot of prisoners started coming in, they then blocked part of our single cells with a wall and they made another section of the prison specially for these people, for about 20 of them, not all of them, and for a short while they used to allow us to mix with them over a weekend. It happened a few times where they brought them over a weekend to our section to see films and then we were allowed to go there, but it happened for a very short while and then of course they clamped down on us. It wasn't uniform but one could say that on the whole we remained isolated from the other prisoners.

POM     In those circumstances how did you conduct political education?

AK     What used to happen is that we had a syllabus in our own section and, for instance, have Walter Sisulu who would conduct classes for every new ANC prisoner who had come into our section, he would have to go through Sisulu. We wrote up Sisulu's lecture and we smuggled it through to the ANC people in the other sections and as we delivered lectures we would smuggle them through in written form to other sections of the prison so that they would have the same type of syllabus that we underwent.

POM     Now how would he conduct, I mean if he didn't have access to other prisoners, how would he conduct these lectures in the first place?

AK     No, you see we would write them out. For instance in our section we couldn't have obviously a mass gathering of ANC people so we would have at the quarry Sisulu going to a group of five or six people, talking to them, he would take the next group and talk to them and eventually we would write it up and send it to the other sections. Now there they were freer because after lock-up they are together in the various cells so they would, I suppose, use their own methods to disseminate the information and run their classes.

POM     When did you in prison get the feeling for the first time that the end was in sight, that things were changing within the country and that it was only a matter of time even if it were going to be years, but that it was only going to be a matter of time before you were going to be released?

AK     We became quite cynical about releases. Already two years after we were on Robben Island with the fifth anniversary of the Republic, 1966, we had just been two years on the Island, and they called all of us one by one and they filled in a form, "When you are released where are you going to?" The type of information they asked people before they placed them under house arrest. How many rooms have you got? Where will they be staying? With whom will you be staying? And that gave the impression to a number of people that they were going to be released. We didn't quite believe that because we were only two years in prison and we were serving a life sentence but others did. They went further and the short-term prisoners who were doing three years or five years, you see when you do a sentence of five years or under they don't send your clothes back home, the clothes that you were sentenced with, they keep it in the prison so that when you are released you can be released with your own clothes. It's only if you are doing five years or more that they send all your clothes back. So in this particular instance all those who were doing under five years were given their clothes a few days before and they said, "Look if you want to wash your clothes or iron them and so forth", and it never happened. Nobody was released except the amnesty for the common law prisoners. Now this happened quite a few times, not in this form naturally, but we became quite cynical about it.

POM     Do you think this was a conscious ploy that they used to break your spirit, to have the anticipation of release there and then to take it away?

AK     To break your spirit. Exactly, because it was a massive disappointment especially for those people who really believed them. But they never repeated this type of thing again except little rumours and then people from outside were also holding out hopes and as the years went by they were becoming more confident outside but we remained quite sober on this question. In the sixties repression was very, very severe and we didn't think that we would get released very soon although the police on the plane to Robben Island, the policeman who was in charge of the Rivonia raid, said to me that you will be out in five years time but you're not going to win, you will be out because this government is going to change its policy. And then he joked that all the women will be waiting for you because you're not married and that type of thing. I think to an extent he believed it but we didn't because the repression was very severe in the sixties and early seventies. They had virtually crushed the movement and we knew that we can only be released by the strength of the movement, not out of the good heart of our oppressors. But then in the seventies things started changing. The trade union movement started coming up again. The turning point was the 1976 uprising so that political activity now became quite strong and growing and we became more and more confident that now the struggle is reaching a stage where there can be dramatic changes, including release, but we didn't focus too much on our release at all. We knew all the time that we were going to be out of jail at some stage. When that's going to be we don't know. Even towards the end, in the eighties, we never accepted that we were going to be released.

     When on 10th October 1989, of course before that we knew in that period where the negotiations between President Mandela and them had started, now he had kept on informing us whenever they allowed us to meet. He kept on telling us of his demands that he was putting forward to the other side because one of the demands is relating to political prisoners or that they should release all the people who are doing life sentences. That, of course, the prison authorities and the government did not agree. Then he demanded that all the old and the frail should be released. Eventually they agreed to that and they released Govan Mbeki and Harry Gwala and a few others were released before their sentences were over. Then the President shortened his list and said, well he included Sisulu with Mbeki and they promised to release Sisulu. I know it was the 15th March 1989 they took Sisulu away from us. We were staying together with him at Pollsmoor, in fact he and I were sharing a cell. They took him away and put him in the same cell where Mandela was staying before he was transferred to Victor Verster and the indication was that they have taken Sisulu away from us because they are preparing to release him. But then they didn't release him and their explanation apparently was that the elections were now coming in 1989 and if they release Sisulu it can be a massive backlash so they didn't release him. Mandela then in his negotiations shortened the list and said release all my colleagues, the Rivonia group, and then there was Jeff Masemola of the PAC, he said release them. He never, of course, demanded his own release at any stage.

     So on 10th October 1989 when we were visiting the President at Victor Verster Prison he then told us, "Chaps this is now goodbye", but he wasn't told when. Ministers had visited him that morning and said that the Cabinet has decided to release the people you demanded to be released but they wouldn't tell him when. And that night on 10th October 1989 we saw De Klerk's announcement on television while we were at Victor Verster Prison. They had asked us to stay on and we had dinner together with Brigadiers and with the top brass of the prisons. Normally when they took us to visit the President at Victor Verster they would bring us back to Pollsmoor. That day, on 10th October, instead of the normal routine of bringing us back to Pollsmoor they kept us at Victor Verster, after we saw him already and we saw him in the morning and they said, "Look we're not going back immediately", and then in the afternoon they opened the Officers' Mess and gave us refreshments and after that they said, "No, we are going to have dinner together." So in the evening we all were seated at the table, because at that time they allowed us to wear, in fact they insisted that we shouldn't go out in prison clothes, so we were in our suits and all. We sat down to a very nice dinner together with Colonels and Brigadiers and all that and then they brought in the television and at eight o'clock announced the eight names, but yet they did not tell us when. They kept on saying, "We don't know." That was a Tuesday and then a day or two later they collected our stuff, they said, "Pack all your things you are going to be transferred to another prison." They didn't say when. And on the Thursday night they told us that early on Friday morning you are being transferred to another prison, your stuff has gone by road. At about four thirty in the morning they drove us to the airport, to D F Malan it was called then, and they put us on a commercial flight, we went into the plane first and we occupied the seats right at the back together with the warders, and then they transferred us to Johannesburg Prison and there the Prison Command said, "Look I don't know why you are here, but I've just been told to look after you." That was a Friday and Sunday morning they released us, five thirty, but they never told us beforehand. Saturday night at ten o'clock, you see when we went to Johannesburg Prison we asked that we be allowed to stay together because that what we had been doing at Pollsmoor. They said, "No we won't allow that but we will allow you to remain open until about ten o'clock at night." That happened on Friday night and they said the same thing on Saturday night, so we were together talking and so forth.

     This man Jeff Masemola of the PAC had been separated from us some years before so we met him there and we had a lot to talk about. Just at lock-up time, when they locked us in about ten, half past ten, they told us they had just received a fax from Pretoria, we didn't know what a fax was of course, that we were going to be released in the morning, Sunday morning, so at two o'clock in the morning or so they woke us up and took us to the offices where they went through all the routine of checking through our accounts and giving us our money back and other things and at five thirty in the morning there were now seven of us, each of us accompanied by three cars, two police cars and the prison car, took us to our homes. Of course they told us that they had informed our families which they didn't. But what had happened in fact is that since the announcement on 10th October every night the media just invaded our homes and waited and waited because they thought it's going to be any time. At my place they waited until about four thirty Sunday morning then they gave up, they said no nothing is going to happen and they went away. And five thirty I was at home. Of course it didn't take them long to come back, the media, so in no time they were all back.

POM     When you were released what did you have most difficulty in adjusting to? You had been in jail for 27 years, large parts of the world outside had changed, like faxes, technology, living arrangements, did you find the process of readapting back into 'ordinary' life difficult or were you so busy that you didn't have time to think about it, you made the adjustment on the run so to speak?

AK     I think that is correct. We were never given any chance to adjust, unlike most of the prisoners when they were released they spent time with their families, they went away on holidays and slowly adjusted. With us there was no such thing because from the moment of our release the press descended upon us in a very big way. Apart from that it was the masses of people. I remember, I stay in an Indian group area called Lenasia, and already when the news spread hundreds of people started gathering. Soweto was much worse of course. There they were there in their tens of thousands and when I came back from Soweto from a press conference which we held the same night, again we were not used to television cameras and all that, I mean we were faced with these booms and so forth. Fortunately we had television in prison but we didn't know what went on before television, we didn't know about the cameras and so forth and the lights. So we were not given a chance to adjust to that. We were just faced with these things and we did the best we could and then for weeks thereafter it was the same thing. Every day we had to go to Soweto, I had to go to Soweto, because people in their hundreds and thousands just gathered near the home of Walter Sisulu and then there's a hall nearby so we had to just go there so that people can just meet us. That went on for some weeks and then of course we just got no opportunity to even go away anywhere.

     What I couldn't adjust to, I made a list, I don't know if I've still got it, just as a hobby I made a list of new things, technology, even terminology. That I can say I found it difficult to adjust to. I made a light observation which received a lot of publicity at the time, and that is that I wasn't used to this shaving razor with these blades and it's the first time I'm faced with a thing like that. And then all this technology I still can't get used to. When we went to prison computers were the size of a small room and now suddenly we're faced with these little things. I only now in the last few months I've at last learnt to do word processing, with great difficulty. And everything to do with electronics it just doesn't agree with me. Worst of all are the roads. I can't drive. I used to love driving. I've got a car here, in the two years that I've been here I haven't driven more than 100 meters, I haven't. I just drove from the street into the garage, that's all I've done. In Jo'burg I drive a bit more on a quiet day, Sunday. I can't get used to these highways and all these multiple lanes and all that. That I can't do. So there's a lot that is new to us and that one can't adjust to and when I say new there is just too much that's new.

POM     When you were released did you ever think that within five to six years of your release that elections would be, there would be a change in government, that the ANC for all practical purposes would have assumed the reins of government, or did you think it would take a longer and more protracted period of negotiations?

AK     In prison already we knew that we were going to win but not a single one of us, including President Mandela, had any idea that he is going to be President and that we would be sitting in parliament. If any of us harboured that idea we kept it very close to our chest, we never talked about that. I don't think anybody harboured that, we never even talked about it. What we knew is we were going to win, one day the ANC is going to be victorious due to a combination of forces. In the eighties in particular the struggle reached a new momentum, the resistance reached a new momentum, in their thousands people started just ignoring a number of apartheid laws and they just didn't have prisons big enough to imprison thousands of people. And there was a general air of defiance and ungovernability and the armed struggle of course contributed its share. Then the international sanctions started biting, so we knew we were going to win but we didn't think it's all going to come so soon.

     For instance when they released us, the first group, the Rivonia group, in October of 1989, they were still hovering or fostering this hope that they will split the ANC and they said as much that there is the Mandela ANC who are good reasonable people and there is the Tambo ANC in Lusaka who are the terrorists and so forth. They tried to foster that idea, so that even they didn't think that things are going too happen very soon. Then on 2nd February 1990, I know I was in Botswana, when I was quite stunned by the news that they had unbanned - well I knew they were going to unban the ANC at some stage because we ourselves from the very first huge rally that we addressed we had said that we are ANC, that we will not obey any banning orders, we are going to continue ANC work. So that we made clear from public platforms and we said they can arrest us and put us back, they are welcome to do so. What really shocked me was the announcement that not only the ANC but uMkhonto and Communist Party and every organisation was unbanned. Yet we didn't think that things were going to move so fast. We knew there were going to be protracted negotiations and so forth and that happened much sooner than we all thought, the negotiations and the elections of 1994.

POM     Over the years I've read quite a lot about the armed struggle and there are almost two different schools of observation on it. One school is that it was largely ineffective, that it was more symbolic, that as a guerrilla army it really wasn't that effective, that either the supply lines were too long if you had to come in from Tanzania, or that the government was super-efficient at picking people up when they came into the country and that the armed struggle was going nowhere. Where do you place its importance in the context of all the changes that occurred to bring about the collapse of apartheid? What importance does the armed struggle occupy?

AK     Well here I will have to distinguish between what I say on a platform and what I genuinely feel and what I have genuinely felt. I was one of the founders of uMkhonto, 1961, and I was an original Provincial Command of uMkhonto. I also took part in a few sabotage acts but very soon I became disillusioned with it, not on principle but I thought that for various reasons, (a) I did not have the aptitude for this type of struggle, I thought that I can do much more in the political field than in the armed. But there were other factors and I got out of it after a few months, I left uMkhonto so that when I served this 26 years for uMkhonto it was not really deserved. I think that my colleagues, many of them, tried to romanticise this quite a bit. As I say, I have said things on the platform and I have also said things in interviews which I didn't really in my heart of heart believe. I have the greatest admiration for the courage and the devotion of the large number of uMkhonto people. I also have great admiration for some of the acts, some of the daring acts that they carried out, also for their skirmishes in which they took part every now and then in South Africa, on the border, in Angola and so forth. I have the greatest regard for them and for the loyalty of these people, that I have. But in the context of the whole struggle it made a contribution but I don't think it was decisive.

     Now President Mandela himself has come out more and more openly, especially in the last few months, you must have followed it, when he has said, and addressing ANC people, where he has said that some of us think that we achieved a military victory over the enemy, that the enemy is on its knees and begging for mercy. Now again some of our colleagues have got that impression which is wrong and the correct thing is that we did not achieve a military victory, we didn't come back into the country as conquering heroes. We knew that we were going to win because the mass struggle had grown to such an extent that had De Klerk held on he was just inviting bloodshed more and more over which there would have been no control, there would have been anarchy in the country. So we were going to win quite apart from the contribution of the armed struggle.

POM     Dullah Omar has made this distinction between the violence of the state and the violence that was used by members of the liberation movements, saying there is no moral equivalence between the two and it has been a matter of some controversy. Of course there is a difference. President Mandela in his book goes very carefully through all the arguments that you had whether or not to resort to the use of violence and it was a remedy of last resort, you turned to it when you had no other option. Is it not dangerous to allow the impression to be created which the National Party has been doing, that maybe they used violence but you used violence too and there was no difference between one kind of violence and the other kind of violence, all violence must be condemned?

AK     I agree 100% with Dullah Omar that you can't equate the two. We're on high moral ground as far as our struggle is concerned. Ours was a struggle of an oppressed people who had been denied every opportunity, legal and illegal for that matter, to achieve what we wanted to achieve. We did not have the vote, our organisations were banned, our leaders were banned, many were killed, so that we were forced to resort to this. The enemy on the other hand had all the power of the state which they utilised against us and they went to lengths that are not acceptable to the whole world, so much so that the world in judging us, the whole international community, condoned our struggle but condemned the repression of the other side. So I think that there is just no justification for anybody to claim that they should be treated on a par.

     Now naturally in the course of our struggle there have been excesses which we cannot condone, there have been excesses. Apart from the fact that there were cases where people, civilians were killed in cross-fire, that happens, but there were other cases where not enough care was taken to prevent the taking of civilian lives. I talk about the Wimpy Bar bombs, bombs being placed in a Wimpy Bar where ordinary people go and eat. Now that is not justifiable and I am told that the organisation disciplined that unit which did that. So there were these excesses which we criticised and condemned. On the whole whatever armed activity our people carried on I think they stuck fairly successfully to the guidelines and that is to fight the armed forces of the enemy and target other installations which are of strategic importance. If one looks back at that I think that by and large our people succeeded in that and I think that people who are not friendly to us try to concentrate on the Magoo Bar and a few other incidents which were very unfortunate and which we cannot condone.

POM     But under the Truth & Reconciliation Commission there's this almost neutrality factor if violence was committed in accordance with the political objective and seen to be committed in connection with a political objective then the person responsible for the violence can apply for amnesty. In that broad context let me ask you one thing that I've had a lot of trouble with and that is that President Mandela has before parliament and said, "I, President Mandela, take responsibility for the Shell House shootings, I ordered to open fire if need be to protect the building. I instructed my people not to allow the police to enter the premises after the killings." Why should the President not have to go before the Truth Commission along with anybody else who was guilty of ordering a violent act?

AK     I don't know how I would answer that frankly, it's not a matter that I've given thought to, but I would say that there is no necessity for him to go before it. We had information about this pending attack on Shell House and all he said is that we must defend Shell House and the people at Shell House and if need be defend yourselves by firing. I didn't think that that in itself necessitated him going to the TRC because there again we are finding the media and large sections of other political organisations which are isolating the eight people who died at Shell House and forgetting about the fifty-odd who were killed on that very day. I mean this IFP crowd in the morning already, before they arrived in town, killed about two or three people in Soweto. Now nobody is talking about that and these questions are only arising in relation to what happened at Shell House. While it's true that he had at some stage prevented the police but since then, of course, there has been the fullest co-operation with the police. All the people who had to make statements have made statements to the police. It's now left to the process of justice, the Justice Department, the prosecutors and so forth to take this course.

POM     Just to switch, and I know you're running out of time, what impact did the founding of the PAC, the whole Black Consciousness Movement, have on the ANC? Again one gets the impression that for a period of time, a long period of time, the ANC were almost paranoid about the PAC, not that it was making huge inroads into its constituency but that it was being received in other African countries in a better way. Mr Mandela again talks about it when he made his trip in 1962 how the PAC, other countries and other leaders would keep talking about the PAC, the PAC, the PAC, and he was taken aback by the amount of attention it was receiving.

AK     Well you see it is true that for a period of about three or four years the PAC did overshadow the ANC as far as the media was concerned. But if one looks back objectively to what in fact happened on 21st March 1960 you will find that the country did not respond at all to the PAC. Sharpeville responded and Langa responded. That's all. The top leadership of the PAC which lived in Soweto, they couldn't muster more than sixty volunteers to go and surrender their passes. So that the police went and killed 69 people at Sharpeville and they attacked a massive demonstration here and I think killed three people. The media built the PAC after that. We know that Benjamin Pogrund, who is the author of the biography of Sobukwe has been a very great sympathiser of the PAC, he was I think Assistant News Editor of the Daily Mail and at that time there were no black journalists working in the mainstream newspapers. He on his own employed blacks, paying them to feed him with PAC news and the PAC got headlines day after day in the Daily Mail. Naturally with the type of thing that happened it did receive mass coverage abroad as well.

     Again, what they ignore is the eve of the Sharpeville message by Sobukwe wherein he said, "Ours is a non-violent struggle. Anybody who indulges in violence will be regarded as an enemy of the people." Now the press never mentions that. What the PAC claims is that they broke away from the ANC because the ANC was not militant enough and they, the PAC, they claimed ipso facto that they opted for the armed struggle right from the start which is not true. But what happened at Sharpeville and Langa gave the impression that here was an ultra-militant organisation which was prepared to take on the enemy with arms, which was not true. But very soon people in this country and in Africa they learnt the truth. This whole big claim by the PAC of having thousands and thousands of people, trained people, they didn't.

     Even now the claims that they have made of APLA, I mean I was in prison on Robben Island, if you could name ten people who were in prison for APLA I would say you would be too generous. There were hundreds of PAC people naturally, but for armed activity if there were ten or twelve people I'd say that they're exaggerating because you won't be able to name them. They carried out hardly any armed activity but they are being given credit for armed activity. They did nothing like MK did and MK itself, I'm not claiming that they did too much but they did a fair amount, PAC did nothing. In fact in Mozambique they fought against Frelimo and only a dozen of them fought there and most of them were killed. In Angola they sided with UNITA. Then some of them somehow or the other found themselves in Cambodia, they sided with Pol Pot, a handful of them. If anybody is prepared to show me what the armed activities the PAC were in I'll be very glad, there was no such thing as the armed activity of the PAC but they were boosted and they are still boosted. Black Consciousness the same thing. I mean Black Consciousness, if one small chap makes a threat in the Free State that you're going to see mass action like the country has never seen before, it gets huge headlines on the television and all that, so they are being constantly boosted by the media, much beyond their real strength.

POM     Why do you think that is?

AK     The media is controlled by an interest group which is not really happy with the ANC, large sections of people are not happy, whites in particular are not happy with the ANC. Anything that weakens the ANC they would boost. They still harbour hopes that Buthelezi should be the President of South Africa. They've always harboured that hope, they still want that. They have now accepted it's not going to happen. What they now hope for is to boost anything that will weaken the ANC and if they find portions or sections of the PAC leadership whom they think they should boost they will do that.

POM     How does that relate to what I see as increasing acrimony between what are called white liberals and the ANC?

AK     We have, I'm talking about myself, I've always distinguished between liberal and liberal. The race relations type of liberal who is worse than our worst enemies, it's always been.

POM     The race relations would be the?

AK     The Institute of Race Relations.

POM     John Kane-Berman and that crowd. That's a liberal whom I have never, ever trusted and as I say they were regarded by me and many others, there was no official ANC attitude, but many of us regarded them as worse enemies than even the Nats because they could succeed in misleading people which the Nats couldn't. But then there are others who are unfortunately dubbed liberals. I mean I wouldn't regard Dennis Davies in the same light as John Kane-Berman and I think it was unfortunate that some of our colleagues do put them in the same boat. I don't. So there are liberals and liberals and I think we should distinguish carefully between those two. Unfortunately, some people use it collectively to include all whites. I mean there are liberals who differ with the ANC, they are still liberal and I have respect for them, they can differ with the ANC. Then in the Democratic Party again one has to distinguish between individuals. There's your Tony Leon types who you can class in the same category as John Kane-Berman but there are others who are not necessarily like Tony Leon. So one has to be very careful there.

POM     I wonder, does the word 'race' get thrown into all discussion to the point where it inhibits discussion because if I have a difference with you and I'm going to be called a racist because I have a difference with you, I'll say no, to hell with it, I won't bring the matter up at all I'll just let it pass.

AK     It's a very unfortunate development. To that extent I think there is the positive element in the debate between Pityana and Dennis Davies, I think it has brought the debate to the public arena and I think people are now able to take a more sober look at these things. I know that many of our colleagues are criticising Pityana, others are defending him, but at least there is a debate and many people are now beginning to realise that it is just not correct to label any white who is not in the ANC as a liberal who should be condemned or criticised. So I think it has had its positive aspect as well. I don't like the idea where there's almost a gut reaction on the part of some people and if a white person happens to differ with the ANC you're a racist. I don't like that and I'm sure the majority of the ANC leadership would not agree with that. But then your ANC is a huge organisation and you can't control the utterances of everybody.

POM     Have you found, this is my last question because I know you're very busy, have you found in the years that you have been free that there has been a significant change in the attitude of white people towards the past or that they say, well we got rid of apartheid let's just get on with the future and we did our bit now let's all row in together, but that there's no deep understanding of the degree and extent of the injury that they did to black people or there's no collective apology in the making that 'we did you wrong and we apologise deeply for it'? It's like, 'we got rid of apartheid, we were the good guys.'

AK     I think that one cannot deny that when we talk of change in South Africa to me the most significant change has been a change of attitudes, there has been a change of attitudes. Where one can have reservations is the extent of the change and the motives behind change. There are fairly considerable sections of whites who when they talk of reconciliation mean that reconciliation means the status quo really, the status quo for them, everything should go on as before. You've got a black government, fine, but everything else should go on as before. You have got that. On the other hand there has been some genuine change of attitude and here I talk of Afrikaners. I am not for a moment saying they have now whole-heartedly accepted the ANC government, but more and more of them are now saying that we cannot change the fact that there is a black government, we are living under a black government, they are now satisfied. But it's a very significant change of attitude. If that change of attitude didn't take place, and it started already just before the elections, there would have been a blood-bath on the day of the elections because there were large numbers of Afrikaners who were prepared to indulge in all sorts of armed activity to bring down the government. Pockets of them are still there. We would be very wrong to ignore that but on the whole in our own inter-action with people at meetings and so forth and at a personal level we find there is a change.

     In this building here the majority of them are civil servants from the old, and that applies to all the ministries. As far as they are concerned whether they like it in their hearts they are workers, they consider themselves as workers. There's been a change of a boss, the ministry is the same thing, there's a change of a boss and more and more they are beginning to like the new bosses because they tell us that senior civil servants in the President's office whom we have inherited from De Klerk have never ever been into De Klerk's house, and others were told by Mrs de Klerk to come through the back door. It's little things which they are accepting now that the new President is something different. He knows everybody by name, he can stop and talk to them, he can ask about their families, their children. It never used to happen before. So we see that immediately around us already there are these changes of attitudes and it does go further than that.

     So to me in addition to all the material changes, and they are significant, 400,000 more people have got water now, it's a significant change and if 1000 houses a day are being electrified it's a significant change. School feeding is a scheme that we've got going. There are material changes, but to me one cannot ignore the attitudinal changes. I think they are absolutely crucial for laying the foundations of the new South Africa and that is what we have to work on more and more.

POM     OK, thank you ever so much for your time.

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.