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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

15 Oct 1996: Gerwel, Jakes

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     I would like to start today with an unusual kind of a question, or maybe not unusual, and that is it concerns me in all of the transition that apartheid has somehow been semi-consigned to the dustbin of history and I am interested in people's memories of it. If I were to ask you what is your enduring memory of apartheid, of the apartheid years when you were growing up, going to school, working as a professional, what are the one or two things that are so deeply embedded in your heart and your mind that you will never forget them?

JG     Well I don't even know that those are questions that I ask myself. You mention that it strikes you that apartheid seems to be assigned to the dustbins of history by which I suppose you mean you're struck by the fact that people aren't dwelling on the hurts and the angers of apartheid, that the attention is upon building a society and building a polity which is so different from apartheid.

POM     On the one hand, and on the other I find difficulty in finding a white, and I'll get to that later, a white person who really supported apartheid. They are like a diminishing breed.

JG     Well again that may be, in the one sense one may want to interpret that negatively as a kind of amnesia and a way of people absolving themselves. On the other hand it may be a positive indication that those people do not feel that they want to be associated with the bad part in the history of our country. Just coming to the question that you asked me in the first place, apartheid was not only what was being the kind of evil inflicted, I mean there was a lot of that, but it was not only that in one's consciousness, and perhaps that's what makes it different from the Holocaust for example, it's often these distinctions. Not that it was a lesser evil but apartheid was something which was happening in the country which we knew belonged to us. Apartheid was an intervention in the development of our society to be one, being governed by ourselves and by all of us. There was never any doubt in the South African mind of the South African oppressed that this is their country, it was the country of all of us and that we will eventually have a fully democratic country and that's perhaps one of the reasons that apartheid was a terrible injustice, on the other hand part of the history and the historical struggle of the country. So I am not too sad about us not dwelling on apartheid, not building apartheid museums, not going around almost celebrating the hurts of apartheid all the time.

POM     If my question were even more specific to the extent of asking you what are the one or two injuries or slights or hurts that you personally experienced, that are part of you, that will stick with you for the rest of your life, that are now an integral part of or formed part of the personality of who you are and how you see things?

JG     Really I cannot, I have often thought about it. People sometimes walk around with apartheid anecdotes like stumps of an amputated arm. Really I have to disappoint you. I cannot actually think about it. Apartheid in its entirety was always an assault on human dignity even when nothing happened to you, the fact that it assigned categories of people to lesser status in their society, your parents, your family, your teachers, your friends, people of your same colour. All of that was an affront but I really don't have these - I would have to go and sit down and invent some personalised incidents. Always it was a denial of the fact that one was in your own country.

POM     You used the word 'denial'. Just flipping the question around, do you think that most whites are still in denial? I said a couple of minutes earlier that I have difficulty in finding, even among conservative whites, many people who really say they supported apartheid. They somehow cling to the idea that the intentions were good but the execution was wrong, but there doesn't seem to be any sense of guilt on their part for injury inflicted. If anything you get a slight sense of everything is being done for blacks now and they are still not satisfied. It's like the Germans, I won't say again to make the comparison directly, but like the Germans and concentration camps, it was very difficult to find a German who knew about the existence of a concentration camp or what went on in concentration camps, never mind the Holocaust itself.

JG     Yes that's what the Truth & Reconciliation Commission is about, is to bring to the fore, to document for all of us, black and white, some of the more horrible things that have been happening in the country. I don't know, I don't want to generalise about how whites feel about it, it's one of the things that we're trying to get beyond in the post-apartheid society, generalisation, generalised conceptions of people, generalised dealing with people. I really don't want to generalise about whites. There are many of them who I have contact with who seem not to have quite understood the depth of the inhumanity and the structured inhumanity of apartheid. I am sure there are others who might have known that but now deny it because it's a difficult and terrible reality to face up to. What would be the purpose, what would one want to achieve? Would you want them to go through self-lacerating fits of guilt or what is it? One wants an understanding of our society, an understanding of the history of our society.

POM     I want to understand whether you feel that the average white person was aware of the activities of the security forces, of the extent to which the state was going to crush revolt and resistance. Did they subscribe, do you think, to the concept of this is war, this is the total onslaught, this is the fight against communism, dirty measures are taken by the other side, they blow up people, they blow up installations, they want to overthrow the state and install atheistic communism, we are fighting for western values and therefore if our security forces engage in assassinations of the enemy and so forth it's legitimate, it's fair game?

JG     Well again I can't really - there's no way for me that I can generalise how many whites knew that or didn't know that. I can just speculate in a kind of analytical way that the propaganda of the apartheid state coupled to decades of a particular kind of socialisation must have instilled in white people in the country generally the idea that it is legitimate to deal with black people in lesser ways and that there was a threat against what was called western Christian civilisation and all of that, but whether they knew exactly to what extent the state went, I would be surprised if every common little woman, auntie on the platteland knew what was happening. I think in a generalised way there must have been acceptance on the part of most or many whites that they were under threat and that their government would use harsh measures to look after them. Whether they knew about the kind of killings and assassinations in the latter period of apartheid, that's questionable.

POM     Even with the revelations of De Kock, I don't sense, again among the white community, and maybe I'm just talking to the wrong people or going to the wrong places, I don't know about the ordinary white person, any sense of deep moral outrage that such actions were committed on their behalf. There is shock and surprise but not a level of outrage.

JG     What is the object of us trying to determine that? De Kock's revelations were so, the picture was so degenerate that one almost stopped being shocked at it and you reach a level, not black or white, just reading the newspapers you reach a point where you become immune to it. That again too is a question where you have the celebration of degenerateness. What does that serve for the public morality? I don't know, there was a point when De Kock's things didn't shock me any longer. It almost became a serial celebrating degenerateness.

POM     Is the Truth Commission in danger of bringing about the same kind of impact that as one revelation follows upon the next it's like diminishing marginal returns, there comes a point where it's just another atrocity recorded, explicated, reported in the media and life goes on?

JG     Well life goes on in any case, so it's nothing to do with the Truth Commission. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission is in the collecting and publicising phase of its work but it's major work is to report, is to find almost an artistic way of having the nation collectively take note and an understanding of what it did. The Truth Commission is a more concerted exercise which must at some point come to bringing together all of these bits that it is collecting and at different parts of the country it is making known to people. I've always seen the TRC's work as a piece of literary work almost, it is writing a story and it's presentation of that story, the style of writing it is an important part of its work which is a bit different from what's happening in the De Kock trial. So, no, I think the point I'm making is that at the end of this they must pull this together and they must let the nation tell the story for itself.

POM     What in this regard makes South Africa unique? Just to take two perspectives or frameworks, if one were to use the framework of Africa and look at what's happened in Africa in the last 35 or 40 years, whether it's Idi Amin in Uganda or what is happening in the Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Zaire, Nigeria, during the Biafran war and thereafter and the pattern of killing and atrocity and in none of these cases has there been any demand for a Truth Commission into who was responsible for what happened in the past and there is no recorded history of the past, there is no reconciliation per se or formal processes of reconciliation. I know this might sound like a stupid or a difficult question, but if you had to place apartheid some place in the category of evils that have afflicted (a) this continent and (b) this century going back to the Boer War as a starting point when the first concentration camps were introduced by the British, right up to Bosnia and ethnic cleansing, where in the scheme of the evil of things would you place apartheid? I hate to use such a concept as of on a scale of one to ten, but where can we find it in history, where can we place it as an evil or at least with regard to this century?

JG     It's not only a question of Africa. You've mentioned a couple of conflicts in Africa but one can go ...

POM     We can go to the Holocaust, the Stalinist camps, the Chinese labour camps, the millions obliterated.

JG     The conflict in the Middle East. Terrible things happen in Israeli reprisals against the Palestinians. There's Bosnia. As you said there's the Stalinist period in the Soviet Union. There's the post-Soviet Union collapse and all of that. So the world has been one of conflict and people, when they come into those situations of conflict, do terrible things to one another. I don't know, I'm actually not sure about the purpose and the usefulness of trying to make that kind of quantitative comparison.

POM     It's more a qualitative one. There are greater evils and lesser evils. All evil is not equal.

JG     Isn't that a problem to say that? There was an article recently where somebody wrote about that, a column about the Holocaust and the injustice against blacks, that they qualitatively seemed to be different things. I don't know, evil is evil. When people in a systematic way discriminate and are unjust towards other people that's evil and I don't know whether I want to get into the game of that kind of comparison. But you were asking what's unique about South Africa, why has there not been reconciliation elsewhere? I don't know, I can't answer that. I can try to understand why South Africa went this route of reconciliation. In spite of the deep divides and differences that there were of the concept of South Africans being one nation actually has got a long history in our collective thinking as a collection of people living in the same geographical area. Even in the harshest time of apartheid, and apartheid has always been harsh, I mean denying people their basic rights in their own country is terribly harsh, even in those days there was never the idea about blacks wanting to take over, to use an old image, drive whites into the sea. The ANC, just to take that as the major liberation movement, from its conception in 1912 it was about inclusion of all South Africans in the then existing democracy. It grew to looking for the inclusiveness and it became an organisation including all South Africans. So that the idea of the oneness of the nation had been an informing one. The idea of non-racialism, which is also typically South African, we never talked about multi-racialism, we talked about non-racialism, overcoming racial divides, it is that which almost logically came to its conclusion in the Reconciliation Commission. So there is something in the history of the South African struggle with itself, struggle against apartheid, struggle for democracy, struggle for inclusiveness which almost inevitably led to this reconciliation exercise in the TRC.

POM     Just in this regard, did you find, again personally, De Klerk's response to the acquittal of General Malan and the other generals rather strange?

JG     I just found it petty. Mr de Klerk constantly does himself a disservice by being smaller than he has the opportunity to be. He has the opportunity that few people will have, to have had the opportunity of historical greatness almost put into his hands. Anybody who knows Mr de Klerk knows that the 2nd February 1990 is not a great De Klerk creation, it is the way that the history in our country moved through a variety of forces that he was there at that point. But he lacks poetry, he lacks the epic, he lacks vision and he constantly remains the small town lawyer and he's not a bad man. I don't dislike the man, I get along with him rather well but he's a small person and he's got this legalistic approach to everything. He can never rise to the occasion. His speech to the Constitutional Assembly this year was such a petty little political speech, I don't know whether you've ever seen it or heard it, contrasting to the poetic speech of Thabo Mbeki which was celebrating our nationhood. All the others, Tony Leon, Viljoen, Makwetu, all of them made speeches for the occasion and he made a little speech. So, no, it didn't surprise me, it actually just disappointed me that he is the senior white politician, this country is about nation building and reconciliation and that he is constantly as common and little and mean-spirited actually.

POM     Do you think, just on that for a moment because it fascinates me what appears to be, and maybe you put your finger on it, that he is the same person, that he hasn't grown as the situation has changed, but there was a period of time around 1990 after he released Mandela and unbanned the organisations that he appeared to move with great purpose towards making fundamental change possible, then at some point he withdrew and became, as you say, petty or seemed to adopt the feeling that he wasn't being given his due for what he had done. Did he change or was it a moment in history he had rather than a process he has gone through that has led to growth in him as a person and a politician?

JG     I don't know and I don't want to spend too much time on it. I don't know Mr de Klerk that well to be able to write a political biography of him. But as I said, a whole conjuncture of circumstances came together which made 1990 what it was and that somebody else will have to write what made De Klerk who had always been one of the conservative members of that party, he hasn't had a history of being progressive, but the process of negotiating had started before De Klerk's ascension, the forces pushing towards that point. He did what he did in 1990 but his history between 1990 and 1994 had also been of one trying to see how conservative an outcome he could get out of what he had through his government made possible for the unbanning of the organisations. It was an inordinately long time between 1990 and 1994 with a lot of very fraught and fragile situations with his government not always showing that they were moving towards an inclusive majoritarian democracy and the whole security force operations in that time often threatened that process. So we have spoken about that a lot in the past number of years we've been busy with this project. So I don't think De Klerk had ever been the great Gorbachev, or he thought about himself as Gorbachev. I don't know that there has been any great change in him. I just think he's never been able to rise - I mean PW Botha had more of a charisma and a sense of occasion than I think De Klerk will ever have.

POM     I want to just give you a quote from Van Zyl Slabbert, this is from a recent article he wrote, and he said : -

     "The reason the government appears to be paralysed is not because nothing is happening but because too much is happening at the same time. A range of goals is being pursued with competing even sometimes contradictory results and the government has neither the experience or the political will to establish priorities."

     Do you think that's an accurate, or somewhat accurate, or inaccurate assessment of the state of things at the moment?

JG     What did you say is the core statement of that quote? That the government?

POM     "A range of goals is being pursued with competing, sometimes contradictory, results and the government has neither the experience or the political will to establish priorities."

JG     It reads nicely but we all try to make quotable quotes while we do these interviews with you and it rings well. I'm not sure one will have to analyse that. I think all governments have to a greater or lesser degree competing priorities.

POM     I suppose specifically he would identify, and maybe giving you again the context of his remark, is that he says : -

     "The government is trying to bring about a functioning democracy at the same time as trying to stimulate economic growth. It's trying to develop a strong human rights culture and it's trying to deliver socio-economic needs to the citizens and that often these can be at cross purposes with one another."

JG     Well in any society probably one of the things we need to do to get greater economic growth and productivity and all of that is to be more authoritarian. One way to deal with crime is to shoot criminals or suspected criminals on the street when you see them or when you think you see them. So freedom and order are always in that kind of competition with one another so it's not a really profound statement to make. We always knew that those Asian tigers that are held to us as an example of economic growth are certainly not models of democracy. The fact is one of them said to me before 1994 when I went to one of those countries, that South Africans are too fixated on democracy and freedom for them to become a real economic growth point. What you need is what this person called developmental authoritarianism. I suppose that is what Van Zyl Slabbert is saying, but what political will does he want? For us to shoot criminals or to outlaw our trade unions or to pay lower wages? I'm not sure that I understand concretely what he is referring to. That kind of statement you can make for any government anywhere in the world, any democratic government.

POM     Just talking about policy and the relationship between policy and people. The ANC is an organisation that prides itself on consultation with the people and that decisions are taken in consultation with the people, that they reflect to a large extent the will of the people. Yet on two issues that are very emotive issues not just in South Africa but in just about every country in the world, the death penalty and abortion, it would appear that the rank and file of the ANC are considerably out of sync with the leadership. Now in the case of the death penalty President Mandela has been rather categorical. He said it is not an issue, it's not going to come before the NEC, the Constitutional Court has ruled on it and that's it and no further debate or discussion. On the question of abortion, which in many countries is treated as one of those issues of conscience because of varying religious beliefs and values, on that issue they allow what they call a free vote yet here again despite the fact that the ...

JG     Let's leave the ANC out of this for a moment and take the abortion one. The Democratic Party which I suppose most westerners would look to as the embodiment of their concept of liberal democratic values ...

POM     Right after this I intend to ask Tony Leon the same questions.

JG     Well they are not allowing a free vote on the matter and it's a question of conscience, not only individual conscience, it's a question of when a party develops on such an emotive issue, develops a position, and the position is not developed by its leadership only. You talk about the leadership and the ANC grassroots membership. The ANC position on both women's rights, productive rights of women, because that's what the whole abortion thing is about and about the death penalty, had been arrived at through that consultative process. It's not the ANC's National Executive that made that decision or its National Working Committee. That's come through its conferences, that's come through its policy making processes, so that is a position which I think both the DP and the ANC arrived at through its consultative organisational processes. But you know on the death penalty ...

POM     You would take issue then with the Human Sciences Research Council which had a recent survey which ...?

JG     No, any country except perhaps the Scandinavian countries, the populace would probably vote for the death penalty.

POM     I'm talking about abortion, well both.

JG     Well both. In a strange kind of way those who are for the death penalty are against abortion and call themselves pro-life on one side and pro-death on the other side. Those are emotive issues in which parties must give leadership and you can see the principled parties are the ones that are saying that this is a societal issue where human society progresses in particular ways. The DP and the ANC are saying, I don't know what the ANC have said yet, I don't know whether it's decided about the free vote, but indications are that those two parties are not going to allow a free vote because that's where you give leadership.

POM     Do you think the ANC should allow a free vote or that it should not? This is an issue on which the cleavages are so irreconcilable in a sense in terms of belief systems, that the individual in parliament, and perhaps this comes back to the nature of the party, is the individual in parliament there to express his or her opinion or beliefs or the party's?

JG     That happens in all democracies. The free vote is not a general - it's an issue by issue where parties decide whether on this one they will allow the free votes. I don't think one can make general moral deductions from that. So the ANC must debate whether this is one. Obviously there are people in the ANC, because of their other social associations whether by church or religion, obviously that would come into conflict with the party position, but that party position has also been arrived at taking into consideration the broadness of the ANC. But that's something that they as a party must decide. I can't prescribe for them. I think parties must decide from time to time. If you ask my personal view I should think that strong parties give the lead on these matters. The right of women to own their own bodies and to make decisions about that, it's not something that society easily, the general populace easily accedes to, there are too many taboos and preconceived attitudes built into that.

POM     I don't want to get bogged down on that, a debate of all things about abortion. Recently the ANC has taken some criticism (i) for its handling of the Holomisa affair, (ii) for the handling of the Sarafina affair, (iii) for what appear to be the dual standards invoked with regard to Holomisa on the one hand and the Mbeki/Sexwale squabble or whatever, or Mbeki going to De Klerk rather than going to internal party structures, and the picture that emerges is that the party has internal structures that if one has grievances or differences with party policy or positions or personal grievances one goes before those internal procedures, matters are thrashed out there and a decision reached and that's the party decision and it's followed, that loyalty to the party supersedes just about everything else, that no individual is more important than the party.

JG     Which party would you say is not like that?

POM     Well I suppose my question was going to be, in this regard where differences are papered over, is the way in which the ANC acts as a political party in any way really different from the way in which the old NP used to operate?

JG     Or the Conservative Party in Britain or the Labour Party in Britain or the Democratic Party here. I asked Tony Leon that one night about the Holomisa thing. I said to him, "Tony, would you have kept a guy like that in your party?" and he said "Of course not."

POM     But Tony Benn is as strong as ever in the Labour Party in Britain and he has criticised it.

JG     I'm not talking about having different views. There are people in the ANC with a variety of different views. I mean Jeremy Cronin has different views from - well whoever you have. I think it's totally unfair, and I'm not an ANC spokesperson, I'm not even an ANC person, I'm a civil servant, but it is the unfair deductions that are made from the Holomisa case. One should investigate what the ANC was doing with Holomisa. It's nothing to do with criticising the party. There are a lot of people taking different views within the ANC, that's by the nature of it, such a broad organisation. The Holomisa case and not judging whether Holomisa, because he's taking this to court, whether he's been rightly heard or not, I mean the facts of the matter, political party acting against persons that act in that way, he was just acting in a way which is ill-disciplined. There was not criticism of him being a critical voice in the party, it was party ill-discipline. I don't think one can make deductions about the ANC being autocratic. The ANC because of the breadth of opinion that it accommodates within itself there has been a lot of internal debate and almost external debate. The fact that it has these alliance members. Sam Shilowa is a member of the ANC as well and he takes issue with the ANC on certain matters so I think it's unfair to now typecast the ANC as an autocratic and intolerant organisation.

POM     Talking about parties, do you think there is at the moment what one would call an effective viable multi-party system in the country?

JG     Well much more viable than you had three years ago. Parliament operates as a multi-party, the parliamentary committees operate as a multi-party. The ANC is, of course, the largest party but that's no fault of it. I think our parliamentary democracy is working very well.

POM     If you have a situation where, and I have found little disagreement with the statement that for the foreseeable future, that is for the next generation perhaps at least, that the ANC will be returned to power in successive elections, through no fault of its own, that this stymies the development of democracy in terms of there being an effective opposition.

JG     But we have a constitution, actually you can't put the responsibility, or people can't put the responsibility for democracy on the ANC, certainly to the populace that expresses its views. So what we have is we have a constitution and we've got so many guarantees for our constitution and watch-dogs over our constitution, so the guarantee is now that we will have regular elections, the multi-party system is entrenched in our constitution, that we have a Constitutional Court guarding over the rights of individuals, of people. We've got a Human Rights Commission, we've got a Public Protector, we've got an Auditor General, we've got an independent judiciary, so the political system ensures democracy and if the people within that express themselves in certain ways it's actually undemocratic to try and do something about that. I think political parties must find ways to use the opportunities which there is in our constitution and in our political system.

POM     Let me put it to you perhaps a little differently. Do you think that a series of political realignments which would open up the possibility of there being alternative governments would be more healthy for the long run development of democracy and democratic institution and the inculcation of democratic values than a situation in which one party, albeit that it operates within all the constraints you've mentioned, is returned to power over and over and over again and there is realistically that a break-up of that party little possibility?

JG     How long have the Conservative Party been in power in Britain?

POM     Seventeen years.

JG     Commentators must guard against ...

POM     But this is a mature - the difference is Britain would be a 'mature' democracy in which there has been a pattern of changes of government for 300 years.

JG     South Africa had 48 years of the same party so the commentators must guard against implicit racism almost in this concern about the strength of the ANC to have a predominantly black party in Africa being strong. You quoted Van Zyl Slabbert about the government not having the political will or whatever to make priorities. Perhaps that is one of the positive things of having this single strong party, that it can make political choices for the development of the country without compromising the democratic framework which there is. So I don't know what will be healthy. I think what would be unhealthy is for any wishes to limit the right of the populace to express themselves even if they express themselves ten times over for the same party. To me the major thing is that the right of people to vote regularly and to vote as they wish without let or hindrance, that to me is the important part of our democratic system. It may actually create quite an unstable situation if we have constant volatility in our party political situation. What South Africa needs now is stability, a very strong political democratic framework, that it establishes those values and that there is development in the country, that there is economic development and prosperity which is actually the long term base of democracy.

POM     In fact that echoes an argument that Jeremy Cronin made to me very succinctly which was that realignment now where you might have two or possibly three 'strong' political parties competing in elections would give rise to the politics of electioneering rather than the politics of transformation, so the parties would make promises and develop policies and do anything they could to get re-elected which has nothing to do with the transformation and that the need now is for transformation, unlike, say, in the United States where the candidates, at least in this year's presidential election, are indistinguishable from one another.

JG     Indeed. So that's not a great concern to me. My concern would be about if our democratic constitution was being threatened. I think South Africa has got one of the most advanced models of democracy and institutions of democracy so I am not worried about our democracy. That's for the politicians and political parties to see how they fight for the spoils of the votes of the populace.

POM     I want to go back to whites for a moment, and we've talked about this before and it was in the context of a couple of years ago where there was criticism being levelled or there appeared to me, at least it was being reported in the mostly white media, that criticism was being levelled at President Mandela for paying too much attention to the concerns of whites and trying to alleviate the concerns of whites rather than with the needs of the masses at the grassroots. Now since then, and it was Derek Keys who put this succinctly, he said: -

     "On all the issues South Africa is going the right way, the constitution is in place, the Constitutional Court has worked, all of the steps that one associates with a successful transition at the political level are taking place, yet whites are getting more sceptical than ever. It's as though nothing can please them."

     To what extent, and Sandton may be a good example, must the fears, concerns or whatever of whites be catered to because of their skills, their professions and all of that, to what extent must that be balanced against the fundamental need for transformation?

POM     Aren't those too simple a dichotomy? Reconstruction and development or transformation and nation building are two sides of the same coin. The reason why we had this negotiated settlement with all of its compromises was primarily out of a realisation that you needed the stability and the continuity in order to have the transformation and the recognition of and responding to the concerns of minorities, particularly the white minority, are important parts of the reconciliation, nation building part which again is part of the prerequisites for transformation. It's not as if you can have transformation without nation building and stability. At the same time you can't have nation building and stability without transformation because then you have another form of instability, namely that the majority population is not having their needs met. So to me these are not, and the President Mandela I know, these are not two different things that he does first the one and then the other, these are two simultaneous strands of the same process of making our nation a different one.

POM     I suppose the larger context I would be using would be the work of the US sociologist Julius Wilson who has done a lot of work on inner cities in the United States and has a lot of perceptive things to say, some of which would apply here. One of things he points out is that in the US that programmes such as affirmative action, the development of a black middle class led them to leave the ghettos and they became part of a new elite, black and white, the ghettos and inner cities were left with no role models, with no enterprise, with no nothing and that all government efforts to raise under-classes through social welfare programmes or work training programmes or whatever have all failed, so that transformation in terms of lifting the masses out of poverty, black masses out of poverty, certainly hasn't worked in the US and hasn't worked in other countries through government action. Here the argument would be is that what you need is more revolutionary measures, that affirmative action is top down, it's appointments to boards of directors, it's appointments to senior positions in the civil service, just the figures right but it doesn't change the balance of power or the structural dynamics of there being an under-class that may be permanent because there is nothing much you can do about them and there being the other class. So that the real divide becomes not racial ultimately but between the haves and the have-nots. I know that's a lot.

JG     There are attempts to do that in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, well that's probably one model that one can turn to for revolutionary elimination of class distinctions. But what South Africa is about is to have economic growth in order that there be job creation, that there be the provision of those kind of basic facilities which make a difference to people's lives like electricity and clean water and health provision and education provision, which is not saying that everybody is going to be an Oppenheimer. There are always going to be - human society has got these inequalities. It's the elimination of the scale of that inequality but for that you need economic growth, you need accumulation in order before you can have a redistribution of resources, affirmative action where in the civil service, appointments to boards, is but one aspect of the changing of our society. On the other hand the US is not really comparable to us. We're dealing with a majority population here, it's not the affirmation of minorities as you have in the US. I don't know whether I understood your question correctly but affirmative action is but one aspect of the transformation of our society.

POM     It's more of the country as development and growth occurs that it becomes a country where the divisions are not racial as such, the real disparities are not between blacks and whites per se but really between those who have and those who haven't, between the employed and the unemployed, between those who live in impoverished townships and will continue to live in impoverished townships and those who manage to get out and become part of the first world part of the society.

JG     Which society would you point us to as an example where that's not happening? Scandinavian countries probably.

POM     It seems to be just a feature of development, whether you look at Brazil with its immense resources, Argentina, all of these countries no matter what their level of economic growth basically haven't solved many of their fundamental social problems as they relate to large masses of people living in poverty. Again, why should South Africa be able to do it where other countries who are better equipped to do so and want to do so have been unable to do so?

JG     I suppose all countries try, well all democratic countries try to do that. That's what democracy is about too, the right of people to express themselves with regard to those that govern them and that puts an imperative on those that govern to try and do something about the situation of people. But the South African government, one of its major policy plans is to try and make the life of people better. We're not saying that we're going to eliminate inequality, that's nonsense to say that you're going to eliminate social inequality. Who has done that? But to make the life of people significantly better. That means the provision, it's dramatic things but small things like the provision of clean water to people, the provision of electricity to people. That makes a big difference to the life of people. The provision of primary health care in accessible places. So those are the kinds of things that the government is aiming at. We're certainly not talking about some utopian elimination of all social inequality. Who talks about that still at the end of the 20th century?

POM     No-one. If you look at New York and you take Manhattan and you take the Bronx or South Bronx you've first world and third world.

JG     Yes, I don't know what to answer to that. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about improving the quality of life for people.

POM     Are people's expectations still at a higher level or are they still kind of ...?

JG     I don't know, that's always the speculation, that's almost become a trite topic. Ever since the elections in 1994 there was this wishful speculation that the populace is on the point of insurrection because of unexpected needs. So I don't know, we've got a democratic system and in 1999 the populace will express themselves.

POM     One last question. Is the idea of a volkstaat dead?

JG     Yes, I don't see not even the Freedom Front - but perhaps you should speak to them.

POM     I am so I want to have your background.

JG     It does not seem as if even they are talking about that any longer.

POM     What are they talking about in its place? Some kind of cultural ...?

JG     They are, we've got to work out these cultural councils which was the formal constitutional recognition of diversity. What that will mean in practice has not been worked out yet but at least it gives recognition to the fact that we will have to deal with cultural diversity rather than separate geopolitical entities.

POM     So one contribution, and I don't know whether it began here, that South Africa has made to the debate on issues of self-determination is that one can distinguish between cultural self-determination and territorial self-determination?

JG     Yes, I think territorial separateness has never been on. I don't even know whether the Freedom Front ever seriously thought it will be on.

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.