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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
24 Apr 1996: Seremane, Joe
POM Joe, I think it's been nearly three years since we last talked and you were then with the South African Council of Churches. Maybe you could just bring me up to date on what's been happening to your life and how you ended up in your current position in the Land Commission.
JS Well I have moved, shortly after we met I moved from the SACC and I joined the Volgerspruit Fellowship Institute which is also a church organisation and I was heading a department called Ubuntu Social Development Institute, which is in short USDI. This is an institution or a programme that was meant to deal or dealt with young people mostly activist groups wherein the thinking was that out of the strife, adversarial approaches to life and the problems of the country it was the right time now to engage and change our approaches and adopt the principled negotiation route where we were now turning and trying to get their energies changed into something more constructive and maybe progressive along the lines of negotiations. We had already predicted that at some stage, and every conflict has shown that throughout history after conflict people do come around a table and sit and work out issues which is a very sensible position that human beings should take. It is unfortunate that we always start with war and pay heavily and when the damage is done then we sit around a table when there has been lots of bleeding.
So that was what we had in mind and that was my work, I was heading that department. I only lasted for a year and I had to move on and strangely enough I ended up in the government sector, which is the South African Communications Service, and I went in as an Assistant Director to that. It is strange in the sense that the predecessor of South African Communications Service was none other than the notorious and unpopular Department of Information, which was a propaganda wing of the government. And I went in at that stage and I know there was a lot of criticism even from closest of my friends who were saying, "Why do you join such an institution of the state propaganda machine?" And I found it very strange because my retort and reply and response was simply this: if we have faith in our struggle for justice and our own liberation and point out the only solution that we will find in this country was to strive again, even though it was a swear word at the time, strive hard for reconciliation, why shouldn't I join the government to take in to them those kind of thoughts? And I said also, who must ring the bell to say now it is the right moment to move in because if we have faith in our struggle we are ultimately going to end up having a government of the people, a majority government, so when are we going to start firstly to discover what has been happening? Inside there I will be able to open the cupboards with skeletons and I know which are skeletons.
POM So you had joined the government department before the elections?
JS Before the elections yes, rightly so, and I felt that that was an opportunity of learning if there are secrets hidden I will learn what the secrets are and not only to take umbrage of the problems that the government were committing but also to say it's an opportunity for us to learn, to begin even before we touch power to know the pitfalls of government excessive power. It is often said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so if you find those skeletons then those will be indicators for you that these are the areas when you have power you should avoid the abuse of power. But the second thing, I was also there to get to know how the system works and if you're going to take over a government then you should know how government operates and nobody had a fix, a timetable to say it will happen now and not then or in 20 years time. We had to do these things in an ongoing way, almost like trial and error in terms of time, so that is why I moved in. But on the other hand I met these people that are coming from the South African Communications Service at a very hard difficult level in the West Rand where I used to live, in Burgersdal area there was conflict and people were dying at an average of about six to seven people per week in a very small community of about thirty to forty thousand.
POM This is where?
JS In the west of Johannesburg, Burgersdal. So then I was worried about the conflict that was taking place, as I say, where the death rate was quite high. That's my home town but I didn't live there any longer but it's still my parents' place, they are still there. I would go there once or twice a week and I felt that I could not ignore, that was my home burning, I had to do something but there was so much conflict in the township, groupings, internal strife and the entire township against the police, the local authorities. No one group saw eye to eye with any other group. In that way I looked around and looked at the key role players in the area across the spectrum and I started going on a one-to-one basis quietly, going to some critical church people who would play a critical role and that was one of my pastors, Reverend Modiba, who was very involved in the community and also very concerned about the deaths that were taking place. And I went to activist groups across the spectrum, spoke to key people in AZAPO, key people in PAC, key people in the ANC, key people in the IFP, and I identified all those groups and I said, "Let's look at this, this conflict, this is our home all of us. What can be done?" And we agreed, well there was common agreement that strife should be handled and really all the deaths must be stopped in the township. Well that was one part of the problem and I said, "Well what about the police? What about the local authority?", and nobody wanted to talk to the system. Then I identified several people within the system themselves, one or two from the local authority and one or two policemen and so on and I spoke to them and also addressed them, "You see you live in a white area and the police move in and do all the shooting and the instability in the township but don't you ever think that one day this problem must spill over into your white residential areas, can't you see it's a common problem because when people die there and they can't even bury the corpses and they rot the stench will affect your residential areas? Can't we do something about it?" And they said "What?" I said, "Can't we talk together?", even energy suppliers like ESCOM, the electricity people, because that was also part of the issue, I spoke to them.
Then what happened was that some kind of negotiations took place and then the South African Communications Service was facilitating these negotiations from the side of the authority, from the side of ESCOM and I was now, they set up their team, we set up our team, I was in the team of the people from the township and then we would face the other team from their side with the South African Communication personnel also being part of the team, the other opposing team and we discussed from there. There emanated a forum where people were seeing eye to eye and from the forum then the achievement was the big National Peace Squad in the area which was the first of its kind in the country where all groups came together to celebrate coming together just having had the opportunity of forming a forum together, and that helped. To this day the conflict is gone, you have minor skirmishes but that was the solid ground.
But what's interesting is that I discovered that the South African Communications Services had exactly the same ideas, they had already predicted that things are going to change in this country and before 1990 they were already pursuing a course where they were moving out into the communities, into entire communities and even changed their concept of what community means. Prior to that community meant according to the racial groupings, coloured community, Indian community, black community, white community, but when they changed their concept they said by community we mean people irrespective of their race or colour within one magisterial district, that's community. So that when you spoke of the Johannesburg community you meant Soweto too. When you spoke of the Benoni community you meant also the black township that are in conflict even up to this day. When you spoke of Natal, I mean Durban, you meant KwaMashu to, so that was community across the colour spectrum.
In the negotiations, every time Burgersdal in negotiations, every time they seemed to collapse and when the activists are very angry people from the township, were very angry, they would say, "We're no longer going to talk to the system, the regime", and on the other side sometimes when the other group felt very angry they would say, "We're not going to talk to these trouble-makers, the terrorists." I would go behind all of them and say, "Fellow people from the township, let's give it the last go, please", and they would agree. And if it's the other side that's angry I would also quietly go unseen to the other group and say, "I understand you are talking to terrorists but give them a last chance, talk to them once more." Then I took a step further, think it's Fisher who spoke on ...
JS Yes, getting two extracts and I took extracts, very pithy and apt extracts and photocopied quite a lot and went to each one of the groups almost stealthily and said, "I've got dynamite for you, here is this, if you use that in those negotiations you're going to beat the other groups", because of their mentality they are adversarial so I armed each one of them with the same tool and when they got there they used the same tool and the same tool brought them to agreements where they were not aware that I was doing it, so that I was giving them a common denominator on which to run their conflict. And because they took it seriously they used the principles that you can't dig in your heels, you must allow your opponent to have room to manoeuvre and that was the common thought and hence they came to an agreement and solved lots of problems which culminated in the peace event and to this day things are moving very smoothly compared to where we got them from.
And I said to myself, "This is it", but then these are communicators from the South African Communications Service, they noticed it then they came to me and said, "You know we are on a venture of trying to change the mentality and attitude of all South Africans, we think you can help us now that you helped there." So they kept on commissioning me to run meetings, departmental meetings, community meetings, mixed groups in terms of race and the demand was so much from them that they said, "No, rather why not work permanently?" and when I look at the offer I said, "Well this is exactly what I want to do and if they have given me an opportunity why shouldn't I?" And that's how I did the Communications Service, but people outside were thinking that I've sold out and people inside the Communications Service would say, "Ah, such a terrorist, you must guard, he will be dropping bombs here and there." And on both sides I looked at them, they were quite nonsensical because they didn't understand. I must say when I performed there, did my work in the Communications Service for the first time, and I'm sad to say that, for the first time I found meaning in what I was doing, full meaning, and when I compared the time I spent at the South African Council of Churches it was good but I compare it with these devils, the regime, South African Council of Churches, I often said and dropped a tear to say here, there at my home, which is the ecumenical home, I had lots of difficulties in trying to put across these very same ideas. I had lots of opposition to that and the staff we had at the SACC and a magazine, Ecunews, none of my things that I was pursuing ever were published. They were always being suppressed. But here in the devil's quarters I actually was given two opportunities, I was running writing for the local in-house magazine which I termed "Worm's Eye View".
I'll tell you what the briefs were, the original newspaper which was called the Metropolitan Digest and both those I ran. In the Metropolitan Digest I ran a column there, a regular column, "Wandering Soul" and in the Worm's Eye View I ran also, that was the theme, but on both, in the internal one I said, "What's the brief if you want me to write?" because they had already read a few of my reports, the original director said, "I want you to write as a regular feature for our internal magazine and you term it what you want", and I named it Worm's Eye View and I said, "What's the brief?" He said, "I want you to open up your eyes, I see you are a very observant person, anything that happens within the staff here, within this office that's racist, go for it and hammer it. Anything within the department that you see that you think is racist, is countering the trend that we want to get to to have a reconciled country, go for it." And I wrote and edited, I wrote what I liked and as I observed it. Wandering Soul it was the same thing. I could write about anybody, I could write about any development the way I saw fit and no suppression.
But in the Council for all those twelve years there was lots and lots of suppression. Even my monthly report sometimes made people very unhappy. I remember towards my resignation I was saying, "It is quite clear that on the horizon sooner or later we will have a government of the people, we have been struggling all along and the key thing was state/church relations, don't you think it's time that we prepared again this issue of state/church relations?" Because I was seeing the church was turning or the Council was turning to want to jump on secular organisations on the bandwagon, we will be having such a kind of government, therefore we are going to pronounce and be pro that government, and I felt a little unhappy. And after my departure people, other people kept on saying the South African Council of Churches is nothing else but the government in waiting, in praying. Such things they did not want to address and I left.
So that was suppression and I can illustrate it in various ways. I still love the Council, the work that we did even to this day in the Council, very much but the truth of the matter I felt very lonely on various issues that were visionary. They just worked against that. But here in the devil's camp where I expected opposition the floodgates were opened, I could say and write unedited, not one of my articles and I wrote quite a lot, not one of them was changed. I spoke of language, why do you think Afrikaans is the angelic language that everybody must speak? It's time that you also spoke English, it's time that you also spoke Sotho, it's time that you also spoke Tswana and Xhosa and levelled that because it is our indication in terms of using languages that will indicate whether we want to reconcile or we don't want to reconcile and I don't say let's bastardise and diffuse and dilute the languages and have a bastard language. I'm not saying that. Use the languages as they ought to be. And I think I've been vindicated by time in this way, by history itself. Here are we, we have eleven official languages. Of course some Tower of Babel of some kind, we are all the same, every one has got recognition. It's up to us to see how we utilise that. So that was the funny thing. I dwell on most of it because it's a critical area of reconciliation and I felt that here am I moving in exactly the things that perhaps I was opposed to.
JS Language, reconciliation. I mean peace groups, peace groups I suggested to the Council and I was working in conjunction with some Swedish group, a few people, that let's train young people as Peace Corps. We are going to go beyond this conflict but this conflict cannot dissolve itself, we must do something proactive and I said this is the grouping. All that was regarded as my ambitious plans, Joe's dream, well maybe I've got a bad name, I'm called Joseph so I'm the dreamer all the time. So that was suppressed but as soon as things got to where I thought they would get to they fell into place. We had Peace Secretariats and what have you. We even attempted in the country to have a Peace Defence Force which collapsed and I was called in, in the South African Communication's Service and I was sent to De Brug, they said go and help and unfortunately they thought about it very late and I went to the General and I spoke to him and I was warned before I spoke to him that you are talking to a military guy, don't go with your peace and reconciliation stuff to him, he will just kick you out of his office. But I said I'll keep my fingers crossed, give me the opportunity. When I got to him he just bought it and loved it and he flew me to the camp and I spoke to, I don't what they call them, regiments, two or three and they were all very excited. Unfortunately it was at a late stage when tension was too high and that never took ground and they had to disband that Peace Corps or whatever military wing to deal with the peacekeeping. But those are indications and the opportunity, like I say, happens in the so-called devil's camp. And I am illustrating this point at length to show how important it is to be prepared sometimes to do the unusual for the sake of peace and true reconciliation.
Of course we don't forget that justice has to be there all the time and I have hammered on the thing. And all the stuff that I did at the SACC which the activists who are now in government used to regard as churchy nonsense, churchy stuff, are exactly what they propagate and talk about today. And I say, well, oh God you have vindicated some of your servants, it's a lonely path like I have said, to walk the path of peace and reconciliation is quite a long road, you're going to be lonely. I often say the twin brother to truth or twin sister to truth is nothing else but loneliness, it's a long path that we drive. So then I did that with the South African Communications Service and then there was this new dispensation where suddenly we had nine provinces and they needed to extend their additional regional offices and then they appointed me to start an office in the Bantustan called Mmabatho after it's collapse, yes Bophuthatswana, so they said go and start a South Africans Communication Service provincial office, or regional office as they called them. I was just there for two weeks and I was appointed to this commission on restitution of land rights and the process was an open democratic participatory process where people, NGOs, organisations, educational institutions and ordinary people nominated names and through that process we were appointed and this is where I landed to come and do this work.
I don't know whether it's a little feather in the cap where I ended up being the Chief Land Claims Commissioner and again it has it's own funny things. Here am I, I spent almost half of my years resisting forced removal and here am I now in this position where I have to maybe dispense of those rights that were taken away from people. But what is peculiar is that the people, the prospective claimants are none other than the resisting people or communities that I struggled with but at this point now I am part of management, they are now angry most of them with me, I am part of the system and nothing is going to happen, they have no faith in the restitution because we are the Uncle Toms we are the tools that have been bought. I must say I give myself a little pat on the back when I had recently an interview on TV, the presenter says to me when all sorts of things had been said, and he says to me, "You know what we pick up from the ground, the grassroots, is that the commission is being headed by you and the people on the ground say they will never get their lands back because you are heading it." And I said, "Why do they say so?" Then the presenter says, "They say you are conciliatory." And I said, "Well thank heavens if I will be regarded as conciliatory. That is exactly what the country needs to reconcile people. Well go and tell the angry people that twenty years back I was as angry as them, if not more angry. I would have loved with this power to chop off several necks of those who did me wrong but my conciliatory nature says no you cannot build a country by doing that, you rather have to do this." And I suddenly realised that I do the most unpleasant thing that Christ says we should do, to embrace your enemy. So I think it's worthy to try and do that, it's a difficult task, you're going to be lonely and they are going to reject you, the enemy, and say no we don't trust you, that's a Trojan Horse what you are offering, and your people will say you have bought over, you are selling out. Again, the loneliness has not ended. I feel still as lonely but I take comfort in the sense that maybe some years from today people will again begin to see what is today as a visionary stance maybe taken by the President or whatever, but that is vision, it always causes such problems of loneliness when you become no man's man or should I say no person's person, not to offend the other sex. So that's that. So this is where I am.
POM To go back to language for a moment, do you think that the ANC misunderstands the importance of language to a people? And I mean this with regard to Afrikaans, that most people want mother tongue education. In Northern Ireland one side wanted to speak Gaelic, one side wanted to speak English and the more you fear you are going to be culturally absorbed the more important your language becomes as an expression of identity. Do you think they have been sensitive to that up to this point or that they need to be more sensitive to it?
JS Well I think they have been sensitive, hence, I have just said earlier that they recognise eleven languages, it shows sensitivity and now it's practicality, practice that makes it difficult. It would be nice, they tried it once in parliament, everybody in his or her own language and the proceedings came to a standstill because the Speaker of the House doesn't understand all those languages and the people in parliament, on the benches, they don't understand perhaps the Speaker's language, so it came to a standstill. That's why I say it's a Tower of Babel of some kind. So there needs to come a point where we have a practical decision made where we say which language embraces or which language is understood by more people, which is the most practical usable language. I think we will get there, they are sensitive of that but it has problems of its own.
Coming to mother tongue, and I speak as a black person, it is very strange and I guess without hesitating that if you were go to blacks most blacks will tell you they want their kids educated in English because English is a key to the world. I don't want my kids only taught in my mother tongue which is Tswana. There is nowhere they can go, not even in South Africa, they can only be centring around North West Province, that's all they will end up. But with English they can traverse the world, and this is what I need. But I don't say they must not be taught their mother tongue. They must be taught their mother tongue as a language so that it must stay alive and they use it at home too. That's fine. And blacks, I don't know whether they are weak, even English is being spoken in their homes, especially with the kids to give them more practice. So one cannot argue when you say English, you do not mean that you want to be an English person, you're not selling your soul, you're just saying here is a tool of communication that can take me very far, that can make me reach many people, that many people understand, but it does not make my language inferior. I can also reach the entire group that speaks my language therefore I need to have it too.
So the two go side by side and that is where we come from, our generation where we were taught three languages, English, Afrikaans, your mother tongue. And 1976 became a sore point because they were forcing one language, be taught in Afrikaans and everything, and prior to 1976 in my generation it was becoming a problem whether they were wanting to teach us only in Tswana, how on earth are we going to manage science? Oh you may create whatever language, OK, we will have the language expanded, take all the concepts, but how far can we go? Can we go and attend a conference in New York where I am the only Tswana speaker and I go with my Tswana, who will understand me? They lose interest, when I could directly communicate in English that they understand. Of course here and there you will have interpreters or whatever but the truth of the matter, why not use a tool that is understood.
POM What have been, when you look at the transition to majority government which it is for all intents and purposes, what do you see as the most significant changes that have occurred in the country since black people assumed power?
JS Well I would say what is significant and perhaps we must very much thank Mr Mandela and I don't think he's the only one but he is a symbol of the feeling of the people. Suddenly people begin to recognise the goodwill that they have not been seeing in the oppressed people. That Mandela can spend 27 years like that and he comes back, wields power and he does not get anybody, does not revenge, I think it's a good thing and that in itself has opened people's eyes, people are now more prepared and willing to transcend the walls of division in terms of race, perhaps even culture. We have seen more significant people, more people moving into town to live there and not feel like it is something unusual.
POM Moving into?
JS White areas, residential areas. And we have seen also more and more white people accepting black people as neighbours and seeing nothing wrong and that is beginning to weld people and make them understand that they are South Africans, they must just differ in terms of culture and colour but all the same they are South Africans and they have got a common destiny and I think that's one good thing. Of course there are tensions, it's not easy to change people's mentalities and attitudes overnight but those are positives and that in itself, when people move into my office they come all the more with their backs bent, afraid now they are going to an office and suddenly they meet me and before we even talk they feel the African warmness, that African hospitality where anyone of my secretaries here, white or black, will first say, "Do you take tea or coffee?" and the simple person doesn't understand. He used to be kicked out of the offices, now the first thing he is being offered is a cup of tea and it's not a government decree, it is a thing that is within the people, hospitality and it's beginning to permeate into the offices in the government itself. More and more of it will happen. Of course people who are from rigid societies would say that they are playing, but that's the African norm. You don't rush headlong into business. First you confront the human part, humanity, I accept you as a human being now let's talk business. Yes, I am first interested in you as a person, then the incidentals are the business that brings us together, and that one is sacred, the human relationship is very important in our concept of philosophy, of what we call ubuntu, that you cannot be a person yourself if you don't recognise the worth of other people. You are only a person when you recognise the worth of other people.
POM You can contrast that with the extraordinary high level of crime, of murder, of child abuse, of rape, of assault, of battery which is like the very opposite of ubuntu. Where does that come from? Is this an expression of the anger that is still there as a result of apartheid?
JS I will say, well to an extent like we are always saying or it's always been said, it's a legacy of apartheid, this crime, this what you have, it is a legacy of apartheid I want to maintain, yes, partly, not wholly, not absolutely. The other point is that while people have been broken down and now that there is no longer that jackboot on them when they emerge and try to express themselves they know nothing else but violence coming from a violent situation, that's the first thing. The second thing, I cry very bitterly to say yes we have lost something, we have lost this ubuntu. Perpetrators of such atrocity have lost their humanity, ubuntu. What we need to do, and currently I still run a regular feature in one of the North West Province papers and I call it 'My Opinion' and I am challenging the government, you are showing weakness government because you cannot tackle this issue of crime effectively because perhaps you're still worried about votes, the business, you've forgotten the essential, the person, the personality. Your concern is votes, you can't clamp down too much, you're going to lose votes. You can't do this because it's going to anger your constituency. They sent you to parliament with the adversarial mentality and now you've got to do things correctly. You have not prepared, you didn't work on their attitudes, now you're in trouble. That is why. And then people will take advantage of that, they will take advantage of that sort of thing and of course changeover, transformation brings about breakdown of discipline itself because it happened so suddenly, nothing was put in place.
So where are the guns that we used for the liberation struggle? No controls were in place and you have elements, third force elements, call them what you like, running amok too and the guns are all there and there is this whole flight to the cities, it causes congestion overnight, unemployment and people take the easy way out and use all that. And as for the child abuse, woman battering, that is stress on people's minds, uncertainty and there are so many suicides that are taking place too, people committing suicide and even destroying their own families. It is the stress, nothing has been put in place. And I maintain, just recently I wrote that the government must spend resources, both financial and human, to work on their attitude and to drive a programme, an ongoing programme, on concepts such as dignity, human dignity, democracy, human rights, indivisible human rights. Those things are needed more than anything, more than, as far as I am concerned, more than the flags. While it's good to have games but even more important than the games themselves because if you go to play games without an idea of what human respect and mutual respect is all about, human dignity is all about, you're going to abuse other players in the field so that that is basic and I would like to see more and more resources spent on changing that to recapture that which has been lost in the form of ubuntu and I contrast it - well I am born in the city, Johannesburg or west of Johannesburg, born and raised there and I was deported to the homeland, the rural area and I have refused even now I am operating as a migrant worker, I refuse to relocate to come and live in the cities because the city or the urban townships have lost their soul, have lost ubuntu. There in the rural areas I am a person and I am with people. Anything that harms me I will have people rallying around me. They don't care whose son I am, where do I come from, how do I look like. They just say another human being is in distress, we need to support that human being. I leave my house open, the neighbour automatically knows that he or she has an obligation to keep an eye on my house in my absence. That's ubuntu and it's all lost in the township. That is why they do these things.
The squatting, well there are economic reasons but you go to the rural areas you won't find this kind of thing that we see because there they are still people, you don't put up shacks like that or camp or anything without interacting with the people. You move in and say I have no place of my own to stay, I need a place and they discuss and you arrange orderly, you are given a place of your own, they help you put up a little shelter for yourself. There is no chaos. In the township everybody does it as they wish and of course we rationalise, economic reasons and the legacy of apartheid. I call it rationalising. We are facing, we are afraid to face our responsibilities, that I can kill you because I want a piece of bread or I want a ring on my finger, an ornament, therefore I must kill you. I think twice, your life is something very much important that I cannot give.
And of course with all this I maintain, yes it is happening and many of my people are doing it. It is because they have lost that essential thing, ubuntu. I didn't expect that from the former regime, it's none of their business, they don't perhaps understand it, but these products of that culture, products of that philosophy of ubuntu need to really roll up their sleeves and try and help us regain that so that we must have order and move on. I once said when I was in Ireland, every morning that I went to lectures I was past the younger generation and they just go past and I go past, but every time I met an old Irish person they would stop me and greet me, "How are you? How do you find the weather? Do you think it's cold? Are you comfortable?" And I often said, these people remind me of home, they have that care for another person. They don't know me, I am just passing, but they will stop me, "Hello, where are you from? How do you find the weather? Did you sleep well", if I see them more than twice, "Did you sleep well? Did you have food? Come in for a bite when you have the chance." That's ubuntu and I have also argued many a time that ubuntu, ubuntu is not a monopoly of the African people, it's not a monopoly of my own, that's humanity in its unblemished form, people caring for each other and industrialisation and so-called civilisation and progress has taken that away where dog eats dog, the rat race. We seem to forget that we are human beings, we have got to interact.
Soweto 1976 they always tell a classical, a wonderful story, in that heat of conflict when people were dying, one little policeman, one white policeman gets lost and then the streets were not so nicely defined as now, you could get lost in that maze, and the young boy got lost and the angry young people in the township met him and what they did, I don't know I wasn't there but that's the story I hear, that they took him out safely and said, "Boy, run boy you will get killed, run", and they let him free because ubuntu had taken over, it had gone above their superficial area in the way human beings and they saved the life of their enemy. Go. And it just happened over and over and over.
POM What's been your biggest disappointment with the way things have changed?
JS Well my biggest disappointment, let's see, we're in the midst of the Truth & Reconciliation thing, it hurts me much. I have a feeling and I can't see anything that we run the danger of having selective justice and I will be sad if it turns out to be that. Maybe because I know the pain, I bear the pain. The question we must ask ourselves is that when we struggled for our rights and liberty or liberation what are the things that we did that were an abuse, gross violation of human rights, what are they? We have hurt people this side and that side ourselves in our anger, in our quest for freedom we have hurt, meaning we have got to clean so that we must reconcile, we too should clean our slate, we too should disclose and say these are things that we did. Well, as we argue it was a war situation, but that does not give you the right to abuse other people, that does not give you the right to forget ubuntu. That does not give you the right to ignore the sanctity of life. This is where I stand and I extend it now, personalise it.
I have a brother, it took me twelve years to know that he died in Quatro camp, killed in Quatro camp, and when I read the affidavits by two escapees who survived Quatro camp and tell me, I begin to say, "No, no, what's wrong with my people." For twelve years they have forgotten ubuntu. In my culture when that thing happens by now somebody ought to have come to say, "Sorry Joe, he won't be coming back", and maybe tell little white lies, "He was killed accidentally" or some such thing. And that's the first thing. The second thing, we expect in my culture when you say one of us is no more, won't be coming back, to bring back something, his personal belonging even if it's a ragged shirt and say, "He won't be coming here is his shirt." Nothing given back. It's important because it's symbolic, in my culture, to bring back the remains. If you can't bring back the remains, the bones, you bring back the possessions, bring back his rusty gun or spear and say, "He won't be coming", because it's a family heirloom. Now you cheat us of that, not only those material things, you cheat us of his bones, you even cheat us of the knowledge to know where is he buried. And that's my biggest pain with this wonderful government that I like, but I think they are lacking on that thing. When are they going to be people to come back to me and say he is no more? The stories that there was a mutiny, they were doing agents, who believes that from one side? When you decided to declare him, execute him can't you give me the evidence? Let me see how the proceedings were conducted. Was he represented? What did he say in his defence? Did you test what you were saying? His accusers, what is it that they said? Did you test what they said that you came to this ultimate decision of shooting him right in the forehead and killing him? Are you saying, you, my wonderful government, are you saying that piece of flesh that's my brother, and many other people, are worth nothing? It's only you now that you call the other side to come and open up, you only matter. Those who faltered within you cease to be human beings, I refuse because human rights are indivisible and the sanctity of life applies to every life not only this side or that side. You may have degrees of punishment, yes, but don't go that drastic. When are you going to come and tell me?
And I sit and I ask myself, again the loneliness, if I feel so strong how many people are feeling so strong? I still have to exert myself again to resist the temptation of hitting back. I sometimes feel very vulnerable in this position that when I go there to the Truth Commission what happens, now how am I perceived? A danger, he's heading a commission, but look, listen to what he says against us. Has anything changed? Why should I have trepidation when I have to do the right thing? Why should I say I'm going to be unpopular with my government when I have to do the right thing? Are you telling me what you're doing is selective? If I go and talk about De Klerk that's all fine, I maintain and retain my position. But when I talk about myself against you, then there must be trepidation. If that be the case then things have not changed. That's a test for me. Maybe I will know when I have taken the step, but I am seriously thinking about it. It cannot just be left like that. Left like that would mean my salary is blood money and it hurts me and these are the self-same tensions and when I compare again they detained me, the system, the regime detained me, tortured me, I nearly died, but when they finished with me they took me back and dropped me in the lap of my people. Accountability. In their crude way they are accounting for my whereabouts. They said, "Here is your rubbish, we are through with it." But here a government that proposes, propagates accountability, that government has not come to account about my brother. They can't bring the bones and say, "Here are your bones of this rubbish that was a sell-out, an agent of the system." If they did just that rough crude way I would say they are accountable. They have not fulfilled accountability and how dare they point fingers at others for not being accountable. In this case they have not been transparent because we don't know. Twelve years ago the guy died and I only heard a year ago. They can't be transparent.
POM How did you learn?
JS As I say one or two young people who survived Quatro camp, that's how I learnt. They knew him very well and came back and said, "Don't expect him back and these are the circumstances he died." And he was killed like a beast that had broken its legs, mercy killing maybe in the sense that the torture left him completely disfigured and when there were signs that one day these people have to go back home he would have been a living symbol of atrocities perpetrated there so they just eliminated him, destroyed the evidence. And that's how cruel it is and I don't expect it and I don't know how much our President knows about such things. And if he knows about it what is he doing now? A wonderful person gets the blot, if he knows, Mr President you mean I am worth nothing that you can't come and share with me the grief and say, "I had the accident"? And I move all around Lusaka way. Do they mean we are so different that there is no resemblance in that boy that resembles me or I resemble him? Nobody knows that he was my brother? As I meet all these comrades all over no-one can say, "Sorry Joe, we rubbed him off", because they don't see any likeness? Is it true? Is it true that nobody knows where he came from? And if this is the case what kind of organisation was it that you can receive people and train them and not know where they come from and when it's all over you don't know where they get to? Is it true? I say it's not true and therefore if it's not true you are not transparent and because you are not transparent you are not very true in propagating transparency. How do many people reconcile when they have such things that they are carrying?
I am Christ's fool, I am willing to forgo that but it is a pain, but I will work for reconciliation. I will use the power at my disposal for justice, for reconciliation, I won't hit back. I won't use the powers and resources at my disposal to organise a group to fight back. If there is any fight I will fight my ubuntu way where they say the biggest war that you can wage, you should wage, is talking, nothing more than that. That one I will wage as I am speaking and it's going to go on record, this is what I am saying, this is as far as I can fight you. I know where to get the AK47s, the Makaroff pistols and I know how to do a petrol bomb and other bomb but that's not my way of doing things. I will be the fool, Christ's fool, and not touch that area because it's a useless destructive area. Rather talk and perhaps through constant talking the wounds will be healed. And of course you've got to be truthful, you've got to be transparent and don't apply selective justice. That's my disappointment. That's one area.
The other disappointment is this whole focus on one place, urban Soweto. It's still there and when you take it we talk rural development, rural development but we don't do it. There's more talk than action and there's every action, even more than talk, in the urban areas. Who do you think those people are? Aren't they human beings? We have this problem, everybody flocking to the city because we do nothing in the rural areas. That's my other disappointment. We have not made the quick turn to focus on the needy out there in the remote rural areas. We still marginalise them. We still marginalise them yet they still have gems, those good qualities, characteristics of humanity that can build a country. They are still human beings. You want them to be absorbed in the industrial areas, cities and they lose that humanity and you have more and more crime when you put more emphasis on their nature and build them up. We have not done that. And when I take it globally I get also very angry, it's a disappointment, that you will place all the accolades on Joe, you forget the people down there who actually elevated Joe to where he is. They should be getting the accolades. You don't do it. And we are inclined to do that. Even the government does it and that is my sad thing. Maybe I am expecting too much from people. We need to go to those old people. There are unknown unsung heroes and heroines, we need to go back to them. And that's my disappointment.
JS My other disappointment is our support. I don't know, maybe I will be accusing them because we don't tell them and if we don't tell them about this, do we have access to them to tell them these stories? When I think of a little boy in Ireland who did so much for us and come celebration day I don't see him anywhere. Why don't they consider the contribution, tremendous, I regard it as tremendous? Who organised the Dunne's store little girls to protest? You remember? Where are they? Were they with us when we celebrate? I feel guilty because I know them but I've got no tools to invite them to celebration. I'm not known. Even those who organised it, do they care who I am? What experience we are carrying? I moved over to the UK, I am thinking of a personal friend who when we couldn't speak sat down and composed a tune that was so popular, "Release Mandela", where is he? Chris Damas(?) where is he? Did he come for celebration? Is he ever mentioned? No. But look at what he did. When I brought those two discs in the country they were taped and so many, to gear up the people to say we need our leader and give them confidence because that's the only thing that was more reasonable than fighting. They were pepped up and demanded, "Release Mandela." Mandela stands for this, all the good things, but come celebration day I don't see him, I don't hear of him and it makes me how when I go back to him will I face him? He will say, "Oh Joe when it's nice you don't know us, you only know us when it's painful." And I could quote right round the world where I've been.
Now after I see those figures, now what I see is an elitist group that knows only those who belong to the group and those who are outside are nothing and that's what makes me sad. Manchester, I went to Manchester and received on behalf of the President, it was hard in the eighties, a bust of the President and I was willing to risk my neck and bring it into the country and they said, "Joe maybe you're too daring, daft, just ceremonially receive it, we will see how we get it there. Thank you for wanting to do it." Come celebration day I know nothing, I've heard nothing, just even acknowledgement of the past. I've had nothing. And I said these are the guys who did that in the lean years of our time and history and struggle no way featuring. Are we so ungrateful? OK the argument is that, "But Joe you didn't tell us." OK, I didn't tell you. Do I have access to you? I don't, I don't. If I tried I am blocked by a hundred secretaries who don't know me, who don't even care to listen to me, who perhaps have been given instructions, "You don't allow nonentities to come here", unless once in a while for a publicity stunt my leaders will demonstrate they will kiss little babies, that's once in a while.
I am sad to be talking this hard, but these are the things that pain me. And I don't want recognition. I am just saying, not to me, do it to them who deserve it. I deserve nothing. I am just a wandering soul that peers into all these unpleasant corners and I have got the temerity perhaps or audacity of saying it. Others never say it, they die quietly. And some of the things perhaps I also swallow and die quietly, silently. But for goodness sake just live up to that which we think you are, uniting and reconciling us and be fair and you cannot reconcile when you don't know what fair play is all about, when you don't know what justice is all about, you can't reconcile anybody. So I am just saying in Dublin Desmond Egan (the poet) takes all the trouble, composes a poem on the first victim who was hanged and he has those copies and they present and I take them and I risk my neck bringing them into the country with specific instructions that you take one of the poems and give it to Mrs - I just forget this young boy's name who was hanged, give it to the parent, the mother. And the other copy you send it to United Democratic Front and the other copy you give it to the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches and the extra copies give to those people that you think should have, give it to the women, what have you, underground operations of our organisations. I risked my neck bringing them. Who has cared to say thanks to Desmond? Desmond Egan. Who has cared? Come celebration I look around, he is not there. I feel so sad. I hang the poem, a copy was given to me autographed, I hang it and every time I see it in my study, in my lounge, my heart bleeds. We have not gone to say thank you. My government has not said thank you.