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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

21 May 1996: Camerer, Sheila

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POM     Last Wednesday, the day the constitution was passed, you said that the day before, the Tuesday, was one of the worst days of your life. Could you elaborate a little on that?

SC     Well, I think in the first instance we'd had very little sleep for the last week, we were averaging three hours a night and then there was the question of trying to resolve the last few problematic clauses in the Bill of Rights, namely the property rights clause and the lockout clause and the education clause and those negotiations went on all day and in fact were resolved only at the court's doors, so to speak, around midnight. And at the same time the whole question of whether the National Party should firstly support the constitution or get out of the GNU was being discussed internally in the Federal Executive of the party on which I serve. So there were all these strands somehow being drawn together and going on in the background. It was the most hectic day I can remember because I was at the ongoing session of the Federal Executive, it kept being reconvened, and at the same time rushing out to try and help negotiate the kind of wording of these various clauses, all on very little sleep and the odd sandwich. It was quite tricky to keep up with.

POM     When you look at the constitution, on a scale of one to ten how would you rate it?

SC     Well I think I would give it 75%. I think it passes quite well but there are aspects that aren't satisfactory. There's clearly a lacuna as far as the spectrum of economic rights are concerned, there's a lack of balance.

POM     Are you referring to the lockout clause?

SC     I'm talking about the lockout clause not being balanced. You can't really go to the country in a referendum on a lockout clause, that's clear, but it just takes away from the fairly balanced set of provisions relating to the economy that we have. So that's a diminishment. As far as the provincial competencies are concerned I think there's been a reduction in those, there's a diminishment again which we're going to take to the Constitutional Court. I personally wasn't particularly involved in that aspect but I know that our negotiators had a lot of trouble with the hard line taken by the ANC towards the end, and I think those are two particular problem areas. As far as other aspects, I think it's a very modern constitution in terms of the Bill of Rights, grounds for discrimination being outlawed and so on. I think nobody can say that that's not the case and there are other aspects that are pretty enlightened. I think we've received quite a lot of praise for them, the way we've knitted the various elements in our society together through this constitution I really think it's praiseworthy. It's a modern constitution and it's fairly liberal in its approach. It's too wordy. I suppose there we get a bad mark again, but that's in order to reach compromises that are necessary between the various interests and groups. So, yes, I think on the whole it's a good document but there are faults.

POM     On the question of property rights are you satisfied with the final outcome of that issue?

SC     Yes, of the last three issues that were negotiated in the Bill of Rights I think property rights came out the best. Nobody is entirely thrilled with the property rights clause but everybody can live with it. We believe it gives a sufficient measure of protection to property owners against arbitrary dispossession of their property and diminishment of fair compensation. So I think we can say that that clause does guarantee security of tenure in the sense that it prevents arbitrary deprivation so it does guarantee the right in an indirect way, or a negative way, but according to a lot of legal opinion we've received that's good enough. Also the right to fair compensation is protected. It cannot be departed from unless a limitation of that right is tested against the limitation clause, whatever the purpose of an expropriation measure is. The way it is now, but when I say the way it is now I mean the way it is now reflects the really last minute changes that made it a respectable property clause and that really happened late on Tuesday night, which is one of the reasons I was so stressed out. It is a fairly respectable property rights clause.

POM     On the language issue?

SC     Well on the language issue language isn't the problem, it's the education clause. I have mixed feelings about it. The education provisions are stronger than they are in the present constitution but they are not strong enough to please certain interest groups, particularly groups that are worried about education in a certain language in single medium schools. Although I believe that the cultural rights of people, in fact they do, have far greater protection in this constitution than they do in the present one in the sense that you have collective rights catered for, collective cultural rights, you have a Cultural Commission established to protect cultural identities of whatever cultural group it is, you have the right to self-determination that's catered for in the constitution, none of these are mentioned in the present interim constitution. So I think the whole foundation for cultural and language rights is far stronger than it was. Nevertheless the whole question of single medium schools isn't satisfactorily dealt with, it is felt particularly by Afrikaans community. Well, that's their view. Nevertheless it is a lot stronger in the final model than it is in the present interim constitution.

POM     Was this constitution by and large easier to negotiate than the interim constitution?

SC     Well I think some aspects were easier and some were more difficult. I think the ANC hard-liners have reflected the new assertiveness of the party in the last couple of months on some issues like property and lockout, so they gave us a hard time on that. Also the ANC's attitude towards the spectrum of liberal provisions in a constitution, (on the liberalising provisions in a constitution) changed quite dramatically from when they were outside government to when they were the majority party in government. For instance the right of access to information is somewhat more curtailed than in the present constitution, and also administrative justice. The access to that or the right to that is to a degree curtailed. Also the limitations clause isn't as strong as it is in the interim constitution although I think it's marginally less strong in our view. The whole question of freedom of speech is more limited than it is in the present constitution. Some people might have said you not only got freedom of speech you got absolute license under the present model. The ANC somehow were more concerned with limiting rights this time round (those sort of rights which have an impact on the state's position) than they were before. They were more anxious to liberalise these rights and now their anxiety was directed at limiting them. So that was quite an interesting turn for the books and we used to tease them about it quite a lot.

POM     Did they ever in the last analysis play the trump card that in a way either you capitulated to a considerable extent or they would go to the country on the issues involved like a lockout?

SC     No they never threatened us with that. There was talk but not in the committees that I operated on, it was never openly said. Once or twice it was mooted by lesser ANC negotiators and they were sort of sat on by the others because I don't think the ANC wanted it to be known that they were proposing such a step which I think most people in the country saw as retrogressive and too expensive and not for the good of the country. And we took the same approach, we weren't really trying to push for a referendum. In any case the issues that weren't satisfactory from our point of view didn't really stand up to the scrutiny that would be demanded if we went to a referendum on those issues.

POM     Why then the debate within the party on whether to support the constitution or not to support it?

SC     Well our hard-liners, I suppose you can say both sides have hard liners on cultural rights, on the question of single medium education in Afrikaans, also on the provincial rights, property rights when that clause didn't look as if it was going to be as satisfactory as it turned out, were arguing strongly that we shouldn't support it. We did have a group in our caucus (but they were a minority) that wanted to vote against it.

POM     Now I am told that when it came to a vote on staying within the national government or not

SC     Well there wasn't a vote.

POM     There wasn't an actual vote but that those who supported staying in were those who held positions, who were already in the government?

SC     Well I will tell you, the leading figures have gone public to say that they supported staying in. That included as the main speaker on that issue, Roelf Meyer who is our Secretary General (he's not in the government now), he felt very strongly that we should stay in for the time being. I think his motivation was really that we had appointed a black Cabinet Minister and a Coloured Cabinet Minister who had just got into their portfolios and would be able to uphold the image of the party as being a truly non-racial party at the very top level and that these chaps be given an opportunity to campaign for the National Party but nevertheless as part of the Mandela Cabinet. Roelf's favoured date would have been after the constitution was promulgated when we could reassess our position having taken certain issues to the Constitutional Court and so on and we were looking at early next year. I supported that, so did Mr Fismer, so did Pik Botha, for similar reasons, as well as all the black members and the coloured members of the NP Executive. There was a majority on the Executive who were for staying in for the meantime. Very few, one or two people thought we should stay in till 1999, but the majority felt that  now the timing was not right, that perhaps one should wait until the constitution had been promulgated and so on and looking at the beginning of next year. But Mr de Klerk felt very strongly that he wanted to pull out as Deputy President and that we should pull out of the government and so we said well obviously we support him. Look he's a superb political tactician, I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, his political antennae have served him very well up to now and he felt this was the right time to leave. So we said whatever our reservations were we would support us leaving.

POM     What case did he make for leaving?

SC     Well he just felt that he personally had found it very difficult to continue and he felt that we needed a good excuse to leave and he felt that a good excuse had been presented, in other words that the government of national unity provision in the constitution, which has always been our policy platform, had been rejected out of hand by the ANC. They were wanting to rule, making us less and less powerful in the Cabinet, more and more emasculated, our image was getting worse and worse outside, we weren't coping satisfactorily with our role in opposition and government, which is true. I had argued that we should try and heighten our opposition role within the Cabinet at that level. I have argued that consistently for the last year and a half. I am on the Executive, although I wasn't in the Cabinet until recently but I have been part of the NP's top decision making structure and it's always been my view that we had to handle it differently. Mr de Klerk felt that that would be morally wrong to play it the way the IFP does and lay more stress on opposing and be ineffectual in the Cabinet, but just keep sitting there and use the position to campaign against the government the way the IFP does in KwaZulu/Natal. He said we were bigger than they are and it was more difficult for us to do so and he would be uncomfortable with that. He felt that we should either be the opposition or assist the government in a constructive way within the Cabinet if we were there. He doesn't believe that we should oppose destructively anyway. He feels we should oppose constructively which clearly we would support. That was his view, they are all very good reasons and we couldn't really quarrel with any of them.

     The other perspective I put was that the NP does carry a lot of baggage from the apartheid era and in order to survive as a party or to grow particularly as a party we have to attract a large measure of black support. Somehow being part of the GNU assisted us in overcoming the burden of the past in the sense that we were participating constructively in the Mandela Cabinet for the good of the country and that gave us quite a lot of respectability in a sense and it also under-writes our bona fides in assisting all South Africans to benefit from democracy. That was an argument I put and others argued similarly. I think it is a problem that we have because we have been perceived in the past as a white party, we have to attract black support. If we now are in an opposition role against a more or less totally black government, or black dominated government, this puts us in a difficult position unless we can really be seen to be a multi-racial party in the black community all the time, monitoring delivery, making sure that black communities are looked after and catered for on the basis of our own core values obviously, i.e. anti the nanny state, anti socialism, pro self help, pro equal opportunity and so on, pro market, pro family values, all the things we stand for but being actively perceived to be in sympathy with the black community on those issues. It's a huge task that we have and I think it assisted us to have the government posts in a sense vis-à-vis the black community. Look there's a down side, it was also very confusing I think for illiterate voters, particularly to understand the subtleties attached to being against the government and yet part of it. So perhaps it was a two-edged sword that we were dealing with.

POM     Do you accept that for the NP to be in a position at some point to be an alternative government to the ANC that it must in fact become a black party with black leadership structures?

SC     Well it has to have black leadership yes, it's very important. But I think the leadership should be some partnership structure. The best would be blacks and whites taking hands for the good of the country in a political movement, political party. I don't think the National Party really has a problem with that because the National Party has always been, if you situate us in a social framework, a lower middle class party. It's been a party of poor people, people who have tried to better themselves. It's history, as I say, its origins are that. It's never been an elite party so it relates very well to the problems of those sort of people who have aspirations to better themselves, who are poor, who want a home, want a successful family, want a decent job, a decent income. We've never been an elitist party like the DP and I think we've really shed anything we might have had that relates us to an Afrikaner nationalist party long since because since the early eighties the English speaking white South Africans, the middle income group of non-elite South Africans have also supported the National Party in large numbers. Half our white support is English speaking.

POM     Given just the nature of historical memory how do you unload the baggage of the past? Isn't it presumptuous to think that large numbers of black people who have been under the heel of apartheid for 40 years would in short measure turn around and start voting for the party that had been the instrument of their oppression?

SC     I think you must remember that half a million did vote NP in the general election and so clearly they perceived Mr de Klerk particularly I think as somebody who had ended apartheid and we have to build on that and campaign on issues and values now. I said to you that it is really a problem for us, but I do think we have overcome it to a degree. I personally, as I've said to you, thought we needed a bit more time to assist us to overcome it, staying close to Mandela in the GNU but if we don't have that opportunity we'll have to tackle it another way and I think we do have the foundation. I've just spent yesterday in Orange Farm and Soweto with our basic structures and we've got the most marvellous people in Soweto for instance and in Orange Farm. In Soweto in the Ekaya Centre we're moving into the old ANC offices. They were booted out because they didn't pay the rent. They're huge and I think psychologically this is an excellent demonstration, moving into the abandoned ANC offices in Dube which is quite a good area to start with, to establish our office. These sort of things count and we have an enthusiastic group of people there, all of whom are office bearers and so on. We have taken the fight to the 'mountain'.

POM     Are they more middle class blacks?

SC     The leading lights, I'll tell you who we have, we have middle class people and the jobless, people who have been excluded by the trade unions. The young men who are busy helping us

POM     Excluded by the?

SC     Trade union people who are out of a job because the trade unions have put a ring of steel around their own jobs. I'm just thinking of the group that was with me in Soweto yesterday: we had a number of women teachers who I suppose you could say are the middle class, very enthusiastic, very anti-riotous behaviour, pro law and order, fed to the teeth with crime and what's going on in the townships, making scathing comments about "Mandela's million houses" that he claimed he would build when they point to all the squatter camps that are growing up next to the established formal structures, very scathing about Masakhane. The RDP has become a sort of sick joke among those sort of people. I suppose some of the others with us were there because, well they were out of a job, young and old, they were assisting us. They were there running around looking at the office, coming with me to other parts of Soweto and so on, basically because they weren't employed. I suppose somebody in their families has a job.

POM     Did you find them bitter?

SC     No not at all. They were just very enthusiastic. There are many families in the black community that have always been against the ANC and the sort of people we were getting to support us as a base in the beginning were the old PAC. Their parents were PAC or their families were. The younger ones didn't hold with what the PAC stood for any more and then they were without a political home so a lot of them came to us interestingly. Just about all our present black members were PAC  at some time or otherwise were IFP and disenchanted. It's quite difficult to get people away from the ANC but we have, we have also got a few people who have left the ANC because they are disenchanted. But the initial foundation of our black support was ex-PAC and Zulu, non-IFP Zulu. I'm talking about Johannesburg, the area I know, but we're building on that. To get all these very good women teachers that are now the rock-solid foundation of some of our branches, is really a good sign I think.

POM     How about nurses?

SC     Yes, I've got a social worker who's a branch chairperson, a woman again. She's in a hospital. She's not a nurse but she's a social worker in a hospital with a degree. I suppose when you say the middle class that's probably what we're looking at. I am Chair of that region of Gauteng, which includes about two thirds of Soweto, Ennerdale, Eldorado Park, Lenasia and then Orange Farm. Orange Farm is a mixed formal sand informal settlement. There are six extensions and I visited Extension 1 and 2 yesterday. All our branch members there are I would say between the ages of 35 and 55 and are respectable householders. They are certainly not ragtag types at all, they are very respectable people, church going, they come to meetings in suits and ties and so on. In Extension 1 where I was yesterday they said they had about 340 members. There are about 4000 residents there. I don't have any branches in my so-called 'white' part of the south with as many as 340 members, so this is all very good news. There's apparently rivalry for the post of chairman of District Council because when I got there yesterday the chairman said his rival for the chairmanship had shot at his house the day before. We spent half the time I was there trying to get the police to come and take a statement, so there's a power struggle within the National Party in some areas of Orange Farm. I suppose this is all to the good. We've tried to urge them to persuade this rival to go off and start branches somewhere else. So the picture is not all dark. We've got to build on what we have already but it's going to be quite difficult. We need money, we need a lot of money to train a lot of black organisers in those communities and put them into the field because the enthusiasm is there I think, the disenchantment is there as far as the ANC is concerned.

POM     Now there's an organisation, the one who is in charge of it here, the National Democratic Institute that does training programmes and does them for the ANC, does them for the IFP, does them for the PAC, does them for all parties, has anyone in the NP approached them, saying we're trying to attract black members and we are attracting black members and they need training too?

SC     I don't know that we've gone that route but we are starting a political academy, we've got funding for it already and we want more funding obviously, to train people on six-month courses. The first two weeks is full time and then they do it by correspondence and they have meetings over the period to get them active.

POM     That has started?

SC     Yes.

POM     That's being run by?

SC     We've started with local government people because we had councillors who really didn't know what they were up to or why they were there or how to operate. But I don't know if the people in charge of it in our party have approached the National Democratic Institute, they may have. I've not been involved, I just know about it.

POM     I'll find out because the organisation, it's mandate is to work with all parties and in KwaZulu/Natal it works as easily with the IFP as it does with the ANC.

SC     Whatever the argument is - is that the Institute for Multi-Party Democracy?

POM     Yes.

SC     I don't know, I must find out from the guy who's in charge, the guy who's in charge, that's the story of our life in the National Party.

POM     Some things don't change.

SC     Yes I'll try and find out. Thanks for reminding me of that point.

POM     It's also the Institute of Multi-Party Democracy and the National Democratic Institute who have offices here in Johannesburg in Braamfontein.

SC     Can I just say, all this stuff about the various approaches in the executive to De Klerk's decision, this is really for your compilation later on?

POM     Oh nothing will appear anyway till the year 2000. My hair will be greyer and I will be stooped over. Absolutely. Just on that, in a way you're talking of a situation where the executive wanted to move in one direction and FW wanted to move in the other.

SC     Well no he had some support for his position. Some white Afrikaans men in the party. There is a group who are known as the more right wing, they are often named in the media, they all were very keen on this move but they weren't the majority. I don't know, it's difficult to read it but I just have the feeling that the thing was steered by De Klerk himself. He just suddenly decided this is hopeless, we've got to get out.

POM     I heard it from one version, I'm just in a way telling versions, he said, "I'm getting out as Deputy President you can either elect another Deputy President if you want to but I'm off."

SC     He said that. Yes he did.

POM     Two final questions, one, let me deal with it first, would be when you look back at the last four years, a lot of your life of which you have devoted to constitution making, what are the highlights that stand out for you of being involved in that process of creating both an interim and a final constitution for a new country and what are the low points, the things you wish had gone differently and that you think might come back to haunt the country in the future?

SC     I was negotiating the Bill of Rights throughout and I was involved this time round in the institutions supporting democracy, the Human Rights Commission, Public Protector, the Gender Commission and the Electoral Commission, the Auditor General and all those sort of posts, the watchdogs, Cultural Commission and so on. So I suppose I went a bit a broader this time. I think that the exciting part from my own personal satisfaction point of view was as a lawyer to deal with the top legal brains in the country establishing the wording of a Bill of Rights. It was the most wonderful challenge quite apart from what the needs of the country are and so on. I think that one achievement was to manage to get a respectable property clause in both constitutions right at the end because I knew what was needed. I've been so tuned in to every word and what was needed and what was lacking and what still had to be put in if we could get it there and so on.  I've lived with that property clause for three years so I think that assisted us right at the end to get the right finishing touches to it and I think it's very important for investment and economic growth to have a respectable property clause in the Bill of Rights. That was against quite heavy odds at the end, against the National Land Commission's pressure which was similar but fortunately not as strong as that of COSATU on the lockout provision, but wiser counsels prevailed in the case of the property clause. I think it was an achievement to get a fairly respectable one, it was better in the first interim constitution but the pressures were greater the second time around. Still it's not a bad clause in the end.

     But the challenge and the delight working with these really top legal brains on this issue was a wonderful experience, very fulfilling. I enjoyed that, and inter-acting with people in parliament and also outside parliament, the personal relationships that one struck up. I would say I have established a lasting relationship with Pennuel Maduna who was my counterpart in the ANC the first time around. We got on well and it's lasted. You don't lose those sort of relationships struck up in intensive negotiations over hours and days and weeks at all hours of the day and night. And the relationship with the Justice people in the ANC, Willie Hofmeyer and I suppose Johnny de Lange and Enver Daniels and of course Cyril, but that's a different relationship, we're not on the same level. That was the fun of it all I suppose and the challenge that it presented and being able to get through it all somehow. I think the problem is that we're put under pressure at the end so that's led to very funny decisions on certain issues, very peculiar wording in certain cases and challengeable positions possibly later on but that's all grist to the mill as far as the legal practitioners are concerned. I think particularly there might be a lot of scope for them.

POM     A lot of lawyers making a lot of money for many years to come.

SC     Especially with the horizontal application of the Bill of Rights and the way that's structured. That was a bit dicey at the end.

POM     The horizontal?

SC     Application, you know, where the Bill of Rights applies as between citizens rather than as between the state and citizens. The present Bill we have is vertical with a trickle down implementation through court decisions whereas the one we are going to have is a horizontal Bill (although it has to operate horizontally within a certain legislative structure) which makes it far more wide-reaching. It impinges on people's lives much more. You know, clubs that exclude women, that kind of case. The zone of privacy is a little bit unclear, personal privacy, and that will have to be developed through the courts and no doubt through cases that are brought to court. So there's plenty of grist to the mill there. It will be interesting I think. I think if I get out of politics I would like to practise as a constitutional lawyer in a big legal firm.

POM     That's the way it works in the United States.

SC     It would be very interesting. I would really like to do that.

POM     In the United States the practice is you join an administration for two years at a fairly meagre salary and then you go out and you become a lobbyist and if you're in a big firm or a consultant for huge sums of money and had to work your way through the corridors of power.

SC     Well I have a friend who's a banker, he grew up in South Africa, an old boy friend of mine at varsity, and he's now a top Wall Street banker, he used to be at Lehman Brothers and he had the whole of the Democratic Party arriving working for him, James Schlesinger and Moose and all these people through the so-called revolving doors and then back to government again. He's incredibly well connected through that. But those businessmen in America see the benefit of that because they have endless access to government through that policy whereas it's not that prevalent here. Politicians are regarded with some suspicion here I think, but we haven't had that sort of a flexible political system either where people are in and out of government all the time. I don't know if we'll ever have it.

POM     If you had to look at the one thing that the NP in government would be doing that the ANC in government, let's just call it the ANC in government or the government of national unity, is not doing what would it probably be?

SC     If we were in government on our own?

POM     Yes, what would you be doing differently from what the ANC is doing or trying to do?

SC     It's a very difficult question. I think that we realise the necessity for delivery to the full spectrum of South Africans. Parliament is about allocating budgets a lot of the time and in the bad old days the money was allocated for the benefit of the small minority of the population over decades and the trick of it will be to spread the benefits of government money to the widest possible spectrum of South Africans without going bankrupt, I suppose, and taxing everybody to death. One of the things I suppose we would do differently is not to have had a Truth Commission in the present format, for instance, which is gobbling up funds and taking up a lot of time. We see the necessity for a sort of cathartic experience but we believe the way the Chileans managed it was much better. That's just one example. Also, I think, delivery. We may well have been able to do it better.

     I think the affirmative action appointments aspect that has taken place in the last two years has possibly taken place at the cost of efficient administration in certain areas. I think an example of this is perhaps the Western Cape where the economy is booming, delivery is better and perhaps there's less affirmative action or at least it is more controlled, more carefully structured, whereas in other provinces where you have people who really aren't used to administering things talking big and producing absolutely nothing. Gauteng housing is a typical example I think. Perhaps we would have been able to deliver better. I think the Nats were at one stage gnashing their teeth that the RDP wasn't ours. We previously had something which amounts to the RDP which Derek Keys devised before the elections but it was very badly marketed, it was called something very long-winded and unattractive, but it was more or less along the same lines, so we were thinking along the same lines. I don't think the NP has ever been very good at marketing. These guys are good at marketing but there's a lack of delivery.

POM     Despite the services of Saatchi & Saatchi?

SC     I think we would probably have gone the same route as far as the RDP is concerned but maybe the administration and delivery would have been better.

POM     But there's no fundamental difference in a sense between the direction both of you want to take the country, that is create economic growth, create jobs?

SC     Our rhetoric is different. Our rhetoric supports the action whereas the ANC has this confusing position where the action is quite good, getting rid of tariff protection and easing up on exchange control, and then lip service is paid to markets and so on, but a lot of the rhetoric goes the other way. You also have the COSATU people out of control. Just, for instance, if we were running the government we wouldn't be put under pressure by COSATU. We certainly wouldn't have been in their pockets as the ANC appears to be now on issues that affect the unions. So that would have been a big difference.

POM     Essentially on the issue of the lockout.

SC     Not only lockout. We would have taken on the unions. Maybe we would have lost but most people who have taken on the unions have won, you just have to have a bit of backbone. If you look at how Anglo American faced them down in 1987 it was quite unpleasant but Anglo won. You've got to have a bit of backbone when you deal with the unions. Twice we had a lockout clause that the business community found respectable, negotiated by the sensible guys in the ANC and then COSATU would fly in the next day and that would be the end of it and we'd start again, get somewhere, they'd get wind of it, fly in and scupper it. So they really are in their pockets at the moment. I suppose there are too many of them in the ANC caucus, ex-COSATU people.

POM     OK Sheila, I'll leave it there. Thank you.

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.