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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Oct 1996: Matthews, Joe

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POM     Mr Matthews, let me ask you first what might sound like not a strange question but a different kind of question, and that is looking back throughout all your years are there any incidences during the apartheid years of humiliations or grievance or of actions done to you that will remain with you for the rest of your life, that have indelibly stamped you in some way?

JM     No I don't think I have any incident or experience of that kind at all and there is a reason for it, and one must always remember it, that those who belonged, even in the apartheid years, to very prominent families often escaped from the worst oppression or humiliations that were suffered by our people in general. Pandit Nehru in his autobiography actually deals with this issue. He describes an incident where they were arrested in one of the states which were governed by Indian princes and it was very terrible in prison and of course through the influence of his father and so on he was released pretty quickly from that horrible prison but his two companions who were with him, he was never able to find out what happened to them because they were insignificant and didn't belong to any people who could make representations on their behalf and so on.

     Now I come from, of course, a family where my father was a very influential and important person in the country and one can almost say that the practical side of racial segregation, apartheid and so on affected us obviously in common with other black people but never went, even when we were placed under arrest and were in prison as he was and I was, but we never really suffered the same kind of humiliations and experiences. Even in prison they were always respectful to my old man and I had more or less a similar experience. We were also attorneys, now attorneys are in and out of prisons in their normal workings to interview clients and so on so that could also be another reason that both the police and other officials connected with the judicial administration are familiar with the attorneys and would be cautious in dealing with such people.

     Of course the atmosphere did change drastically during the late sixties and seventies and eighties. People like Mr Mandela and others on Robben Island obviously had different experiences. You did get a deterioration in the kind of relationships even for prominent people. But I always think that one was cushioned from the worst effects of segregation and apartheid by the prominence. I mean people like Dr Verwoerd visited my home. He was a Professor at Stellenbosch and by the time he became first of all Minister of Native Affairs and then later Prime Minister, my Dad knew all these people personally and therefore though there was a fight and they even imprisoned us but they still knew that that was so-and-so and that was so-and-so. In the end they did make distinctions and it's an interesting aspect.

POM     Sure, it's one you don't hear about.

JM     Yes, it's one you don't hear about, the other relationships, that is the public work that one does, which is distinct from the political work. In my work as an attorney I would be a very important person to the courts, to the police, to the people in prison and so on, in your work. Then you have the other part of it which is your political side. Now it's very difficult for those same people who have to deal with you in your work to suddenly turn round and decide we are now going to ill treat this chap. They would tend to be cautious. In fact I recall that when I was arrested for the high treason case in 1956, when I came out on bail a group of magistrates called me to the common room in Durban and all expressing utter astonishment at what must be a mistake on the part of the government to arrest someone like me because I appeared before them every day. So there is that aspect which sometimes can explain why the elite may be rather more magnanimous, let's put it that way, in their attitude towards the former oppressors, but that's because they haven't really suffered the same degree that the ordinary people have suffered.

POM     That's fascinating, Dr Verwoerd coming to your house. Would you discuss, or your father discuss, politics with him, discuss what he was doing and what the long term implications of it was and how misguided it was and what it would lead to and if so what was Dr Verwoerd's rationale? Did he really believe, as some accounts would have you believe, that what he was doing was liberating blacks, giving them - he was being the opposite of a colonialist, he was giving land back to blacks and saying this is where you came from and I'm giving it to you and we will help you develop it, or was that all a charade?

JM     Well you see there were fierce arguments. There would be quite serious arguments but of course also at a very high intellectual level and Verwoerd was capable of going into history, of examining the history of nations, of dealing with the consequences of trying to amalgamate different ethnic groups and how it has failed elsewhere and this kind of thing, and that each group is entitled to self-determination and to a piece of land. And of course this would be combined with a version of history which was different from the one that we may be accustomed to, like, for example, saying we white people came into this part of the world and it was empty and you blacks came from the lakes in central Africa and the white man and yourselves arrived here at more or less the same time. Now of course archaeology has shown that that was a totally false picture. But these were the kinds of arguments that he would advance, that if you try to bring people together into what they call the melting pot the Afrikaner would resist, therefore in order to prevent conflict and friction you should keep the people apart in their own specific areas and that was not discrimination, that was to ensure that each group had self-determination. Then he would challenge the idea of the existence of an African nation. He would say there is no African nation. You have got different groups among the blacks just as you have amongst whites.

POM     So that if he in his grave, or wherever he is, were to look at what happened in the former Yugoslavia he would point at that as a justification for what he was saying all along?

JM     Of course he would point out not only Yugoslavia but the Soviet Union and say, look that's a triumph of ethnicity. They tried to create a big state out of many different nations and despite all the totalitarian methods that were used to maintain this unity eventually it couldn't stand. So you would get arguments at all levels, education, civilisation, things like how can you Africans expect after coming into contact with western civilisation a hundred years ago and you expect to be at the same level of development as the white people whose development virtually began with the renaissance and has taken centuries to develop? In other words you were not dealing with just a crude presentation of government policy but an attempt at very detailed justification and Verwoerd was capable of that. All his statements and letters and so on were lengthy. He was always trying to justify a decision. I remember when I wrote to him as an Attorney over a boundary dispute in the Middledrift district of Eastern Cape and this dispute had been going on for decades, so I write him on behalf of my clients and I get back a virtual treatise on the dispute as it has gone on, ending up with his decision as to where the boundary should be and so on, but justified. It was quite a job to tear his arguments to pieces. You would have to have similar knowledge and so on and my father would, for example, say, "How old are you?" And he would say "All right, I'm 40 or 50", or whatever and he would say, "And you consider yourself a civilised man? Presumably you were not born civilised, you acquired the elements of civilisation during your lifetime and why do you want the African people to take 2000 years to acquire the elements of civilisation when you did it in -?" You see it's things like that, you would get that kind of thing but very interesting arguments.

POM     But would he in the course of those arguments with your father, say for example, would he treat him as a man of intelligence and civilisation and as his peer in terms of being able to make an intellectual argument?

JM     No it would be an absolutely straightforward intellectual argument in which he would of course constantly be saying, because it was a fellow professor, so he would say "Now but surely Professor this and that." And he was not the only one. There were other Cabinet Ministers, De wet Nel, who was the most amusing of all the Cabinet ministers.

POM     What's his name again?

JM     Mr de Wet Nel. He later became the real spokesman for grand apartheid. He took Dr Verwoerd's place as the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development. He's a very well known figure. And he would say things like this to my father you see, "But look, Professor, why do you want to oppose a policy like this? We are providing the black people with the opportunity to build their own Johannesburg, their own Durban." And of course you think, Johannesburg, where does the man expect another Johannesburg to be built? But he was airy-fairy, a very ideologically convinced chap that they were on the right track. Now sometimes of course the thing obviously fell down against the practicalities of the situation. You would say, all right, you say that you built Johannesburg, what about the role of the chaps who actually dig the gold? What role have they played in the development of Johannesburg? You seem to only consider the role of the investor or the manager but what about the chaps who were dying daily there digging this gold? And you say, look at that chap, he doesn't have nice hospitals and nice facilities and a nice wage or salary, you are exploiting him, he is being exploited. And then of course the chap would say, "Ah but that's not the Afrikaners, we have got no say in the gold mining industry, that's the Oppenheimers and all these people, they are the ones."

POM     The difference between the Afrikaners and the English.

JM     Yes, and then they would suddenly come up with that. But the point I'm trying to make is that you've got in South Africa sometimes a very peculiar relationship of bitter antagonism and yet compelled relationships because these people had to work together in the same country and in the same system. They met at work eight or nine hours a day and parted to go to sleep. There was a link which I think in the end played some role in making the transition reasonably smooth. If you had had a clear cut sort of class distinction in which there was no link whatsoever between the oppressed and the oppressors you might have had a much more bloody and bitter conflict. But the Afrikaners were as a group, whether on the farm or elsewhere, there was this combination of cruelty and then also social contact. A farmer would be hostile to blacks and then do everything for the people on his farm.

POM     There was a kind of a differentiation between the group and the individual, that with an individual black person they could be quite generous and compassionate whereas with the group as a whole they would be hostile and antagonistic.

JM     Yes, it's a kind of schizophrenia which we used to remark upon even as politicians, a very strange people who combined these personal relationships. I mean you will have a doctor like Dr Moroka in Thaba Nchu in the Free State having a huge white practice and you then ask yourself, but how do they justify that their doctor is a black man and yet they are prepared to do all kinds of things against black people? He's a very famous physician. He died a few years ago in the Free State and he was a very wealthy man with a largely white practice in the middle of the Free State. Now you sort of said, now here are people who are saying politically I don't want my daughter to have anything to do with a black man or this that and the other, but they are prepared to have their lives and their health safe-guarded by a black doctor. And you often got that.

POM     So you had no sense that the Afrikaners had any conscious sense of doing something wrong?

JM     I think myself that individuals obviously were conscious that wrong things were being done but it took quite a long time before the group as a whole realised that there was something wrong and that is because people began to question, especially in the church. The Dutch Reform Church started to question in the sixties the biblical basis of racial discrimination and apartheid and previously they had argued that the policy of apartheid is in line with biblical texts. But that was challenged even by Afrikaans theologians like Professor Thom. He was a Professor of Theology at Stellenbosch University and he wrote a book, the book was Het Die Afrikaner Volk 'n Toekoms, has the Afrikaner volk a future? Have they a future? And Professor Thom he challenged this and slowly you began to get theologians and others, Professor Naude, of course, is the best known who said, no this is wrong, this is not in line with Christianity or with the Bible at all, it's a pure policy of power and exploitation and so on and should not be justified on biblical grounds.

     And I think that spread to the poets who were respected a lot among the Afrikaners. You began to get groups like a group called The People of the Sixties, the Sestigers they called them, Die Sestigers. These were poets who were groping towards a new approach on these questions and then commentators like De Klerk's own brother, Wimpie de Klerk, the chap who invented the expression verligte, that is enlightened Afrikaners, and verkrampte, that is inward looking Afrikaners were described as verkramp and then enlightened ones were described as verlig, which is enlightened. So slowly you began to get within the group a questioning of the basic assumptions of the apartheid policy and yet that was going on at the worst periods in terms of oppression of the black people, the destabilisation of neighbouring states, the killings, the security madness and so on, and yet whilst that was going on you had these voices which were saying, but are we on the right track?

POM     So it would appear in one way that as they became more doubtful as to the course of action they were pursuing and their whole belief system and more insecure in their own belief system, the more oppressive they became in trying to keep it in place?

JM     Especially when they got a new argument which enabled them to get away from the racist philosophy, when they now said that their fight is against the onslaught of communism, the total onslaught, so that now they were saying that all people, black and white, should unite against the total onslaught. That was a movement slightly away from the crude black/white attitude that had existed previously.

POM     Now were Mr Mandela and Oliver Tambo and that level of the ANC leadership who were also highly educated professionals, attorneys, were they treated in the same way as your father?

JM     Oh yes, there is no doubt about it and I think even right up to Robben Island it didn't take long before Mandela was doing the petitions for the prison staff.

POM     For the prison staff?

JM     Yes he drew up petitions for them to the management of the prisons and to the minister and so on for improvement in their conditions of work. They would ask him to do that for them. I think myself that there is a study which needs to be done into the attitudes between the black elite and the white elite. Why did it lead to a compromise and a solution when the whole world was saying it's not possible? I mean we had hours of debate with President Bomedien of Algeria who said the policy of the ANC is mad, it can never work, you can never have a common society which encompasses whites and blacks in a single state. He said in the end the whites would have to be kicked out as the French were kicked out of Algeria. He said you fellows are on the wrong track, it wouldn't work. And we had a debate with him and he has been proved wrong. Bomedien has been proved wrong by what has happened because he said we know the whites, we know the French, we were with them a long time, many of us absorbed the French civilisation but when it came to the push it was a choice between Arab and French and you couldn't get these people to work together to form a democratic state together and the French eventually had to leave. He said that's exactly what will happen to you chaps and the policy you are preaching of the Freedom Charter, that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, is totally unreal, idealistic and in the face of reality will collapse.

     But we stuck to our guns. We said it is possible in our country, we think that it is going to be possible to do that. And I think some people say the Christian basis of the education that both blacks and whites received, which is a commonality that they were adhering to the same faith, the fact that most of the educated blacks were missionary educated and therefore had a strong religious basis to their education, the role of the churches, that this helped maybe to produce this kind of settlement, but I think it goes further than that. I think myself that the fact that you had a developed economy in which all these groups participated and on which they all depended has also played a very big role. You see if you have a chain of supermarkets like Pick 'n Pay and your customers are mainly black it's going to be very difficult to follow a policy that says you must be separated from your customers. Similarly the blacks once accustomed to the benefits of that economy are going to be very chary of anything which might destroy or disturb it. They want to continue to get their creature comforts from that economy, therefore it became a question of we want our share of the cake, rather than let's destroy the whole thing. And I think that also, our big economy, I mean in African terms, it's not a big economy in world terms, but in African terms this was a big economy which delivered an infrastructure, it delivered all kinds of benefits, admittedly in very unequal shares, but it delivered and I think people didn't want this economy to be disturbed and therefore that is why even in the negotiations I think every time there was a clash that looked like it could upset the negotiations then big business came in and said, now wait a minute you fellows, don't forget we've got to reach an agreement and people like Oppenheimer and others behind the scenes played quite a role as big business because in this country big business is very strong.

POM     Just to go back to Dr Verwoerd for a moment. When he would visit you in your father's home, were you living in?

JM     In Alice. We were at Fort Hare University, we lived on campus and therefore our home was in Alice. Now Verwoerd used to come round usually on National Party business. In fact there was an occasion and there was an election campaign in 1953 and I was passing the meeting and he must have seen me so he suddenly lashed out at, "I want to warn those black fascists of the ANC that we will deal with them." Now presumably I was the black fascist who happened to be passing by. But promptly after the meeting the same Verwoerd, if you met him in the street and so on, he would be talking normally about how things are and so on, so that in fact the way we solved one case which affected Alice - you know Alice was established in 1841 by the British and the then magistrate in drawing up a map of the Town Council area included a village called Ntselamanzi. Now Ntselamanzi village is where my grandfather lived. Translated Ntselamanzi means the place where you drink water, manzi is water. So this village had a number of families, including my maternal grandfather, and their village was included in Alice which meant the people of that village had to pay rates to the Town Council and from 1841 there has been this dispute. My grandfather fought the disputes, then my father who came on, who married a daughter of John Knox Bokwe, he then took up the cudgels. Then Verwoerd visited us and my father said to him we have been having a problem here in this town for a very long time, that this village, and he said I will go and show you the village. They drove up there, he showed Verwoerd Ntselamanzi and he said that's part of the Town Council and the people here pay rates. And there and then Verwoerd said, "I want to see the people in this village." A meeting was called and Verwoerd addressed the meeting and he said, "I understand that there is a dispute here between the council and your village and I think you people are right. You can't have a black area included in a white Town Council. You should be excised from the Town Council and added to the other black villages in the area." There and then he saw the thing and proposed that typically apartheid solution, consolidation of the black areas and the kicking out of black spots from the white area, which is the municipality. And he did that. That actually happened. So you see this was a very interesting man this Verwoerd, authoritarian in outlook, sure of himself, very sure of himself, capable of taking decisions which were logical but cruel, but logical.

POM     The most dangerous kind of person.

JM     Of course you know he was one of the major players in the building of Soweto, Verwoerd.

POM     I didn't.

JM     You didn't know that?

POM     No, no.

JM     Well after the war, there had been a huge influx of blacks into the cities during the war whilst the white men had gone to fight the war you had to have of course an industry created so there was a massive growth in industrialisation, especially substitute product industrialisation because we were cut off from Britain and the other traditional suppliers by the German navy. So you had this growth of industry which meant labour and a lot of blacks were attracted to the towns to work in the new factories. That meant after the war you had these vast numbers of people without houses. They were living in shacks and so on and a fellow called Sopho Sonke Mpanze(?) who was a convicted murderer, who had served a sentence of fourteen years, S S Mpanze is the man who just told people, "Occupy municipal land", and overnight you had these shanty towns and Moroka and all these places, real slums. So what is to be done with this?

     1948 the National Party comes into power and finds this situation and Anglo American, through Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, raised a loan of three million pounds which they were prepared to make available for housing and Sir Ernest actually toured the area. Verwoerd then stepped in and said yes these slums should be cleared but on the basis of the policy of apartheid. That means first of all we've got to train black builders to build black houses. So he introduced the Native Builders' Act for the training of blacks to build houses. He cut up the area into plots, thousands of toilets. You could see mile after mile of toilets. That's how it started. Plots and the toilets, site and service, that's what he called it. And then they started building, fifteen houses a day with those terrible designs that you see in Soweto there. But Verwoerd worked out the slums and you got Soweto. And of course the Nats are now saying every time the Minister of Housing gets up in parliament, they shout, "Verwoerd built Soweto and you can't build houses." But Verwoerd used muscle. He used his position as Minister of Native Affairs and he said, "Look if you want a chap to come into the town to work I have to give the permit", because he controlled the Native Labour Regulation Act. He was the first man who realised the potential of the junior portfolio of Native Affairs which was regarded as an unimportant post and Verwoerd used that post to show that the man who controls the blacks in this country controls the country. He used his portfolio against the Town Councils, against liberal City Councils and this and that. If they didn't do what he said he would prevent people from coming in to work in that urban area. There are all sorts of things, he could deny funds, but he used his power constructively in this case to put up houses and his argument was, "I don't want any of these freehold areas like Sophiatown and Lady Selborne in Pretoria where the blacks have freehold rights because then those are permanent rights and they have no right to be permanently in the urban area. They must live in townships like this where they don't have freehold rights and they have just come here as temporary sojourners to work in a white area. After that they must return to their own place." That was his theory, but he built houses.

POM     That raises a couple of fascinating points. One, that he foresaw that it had to be blacks who would build the houses, therefore they had to receive a training in order to be able to build the houses so training had to precede the building of housing.

JM     But that was to prevent them, he was saying that he was not going to have what was happening then, the use by white construction companies of blacks instead of whites. The blacks were replacing whites as construction workers and Verwoerd said no, blacks must only be used to construct black housing and not white housing. There he was just looking after the Afrikaner construction worker because at that time you still had a large force of whites who were in the construction business.

POM     Do you think, you look at those little matchbox houses, but do you think today if the present government could in fact provide site and service and 'a matchbox house' with two rooms or whatever to replace every shack, that it would in fact be quite willing to do so and that in fact in the long run that that may be all it can do anyway?

JM     It's the big debate you see. It's a very big debate because it's a matter of resources, what the country can afford, and it's politically correct to oppose the matchbox concept. You see it's politically correct. They are saying that all the houses must be the same and the houses that are built for whites are the houses that should be built for blacks. But a house for whites your minimum is R100,000. It's just impossible. Just forget it, it can't. That means if one house is going to cost R100,000 and you want to build a million houses by the year 2000, forget it, it's a matter of arithmetic. You can't do it. So you have a dilemma. This government has a dilemma. They promised the people that we will provide housing of a standard equal to the standard of average white housing. We are not going to have the Soweto, Natalspruit and all those sorts of designs. We want proper houses. Well, people are beginning to say, look here man, here are people living under corrugated iron and matchboxes, they want, at least if they had a house like the house in Orlando West with waterborne sewerage and two or three bedrooms and a lounge and so on, they rather have that for R35,000 or less. Why do you want to build them a house which costs R100,000? So it's now two years, the years are going and we are as far from ...

POM     Nothing.

JM     Whereas that fellow by saying I am wiping out the slums and here are five or six different designs and whatnot, he went and did it and a democratic government is unable to do what an authoritarian fellow like that was able to do to wipe out the slums in the fifties. So we are faced with a very serious dilemma in trying to overcome not only the issue of equality but the issue of class and class takes a much longer time. I mean where in the world are the wealthy and so on living in the same area as the poor? Nowhere. And we are trying to say that we must build similar sort of houses as whites have got. Well it's going to be very difficult to see. Of course you could split the blacks and say what they did in Botswana, high cost housing, medium cost housing, low cost housing and they tried to cater for different classes among the blacks. Like among the Indians you have Reservoir Hills which is for the wealthy people, you have Springfield which is for the less wealthy, but you have to do something. You cannot have a situation where they say we are rejecting the sort of house that was built in the townships in the past in favour of something which is closer to what the average whites have. Then you are going to sit twiddling your thumbs because the banks - you see you've got to win over the financial institutions, there are all sorts of things you have got to do and their negotiations go on and on and on and on. And then if you exclude the private sector developer, you see the developer who wants to make money out of this and can build 1000 houses, 2000 houses in record time, if you now say we don't want exploitation, we are not going to give these big developers the chance or the big construction companies, well you are stuck. The big construction companies take one day to take a decision. Government takes two years for the Tender Board to reach a decision. We've got to be liberalised, we've got to get on with it and the pressure is such now that the public is demanding action on these things and saying regardless, but we must have the houses and the roads and the schools and not this insistence that the quality and so on must be exactly the same as that which the white people have.

POM     At one level it seems that you're saying to a person living in a shack, I'm going to let you continue to live in a shack until I can build you a house that's like the average white house and I may never be able to do that. On the other hand I could turn around and build you a house that's much like the little matchbox houses.

JM     Well it will be like that. Have you been to these places?

POM     Yes.

JM     Really from the airport here and you look at that matchbox thing, you can't compare that with even Soweto or Umlazi, you've got houses there. We must build houses but we mustn't insist that the houses must be of comparable. I mean how can you insist on a swimming pool? Really man you can't do that. You must provide the people with housing and housing which also they can afford because it's quite obvious if you take the population as it is now, you take a fellow who is earning R100 a month or R400 a month, are you going to put him in a house like this, like a house down the road here? He can't pay electricity of R8 a month, he can't pay already in the townships and you want to put him in some place where it's R300 a month for the electricity. So you see the politically correct approach is killing the delivery because you must deliver and we are going to be forced. In the end the political realities - and what is happening is that some people are saying, all right shift it to the local authorities, get it out of the national government, let it be a provincial and local thing then we are off the hook. And the poor Minister of Housing she is just very - the intentions are excellent and fine but "I will not tolerate these types of houses" and everybody just ...

POM     That's a kind of a form of elitism. It's telling people, it's dictating to people what they ought to have rather than people saying, listen I'll settle for this.

JM     I'll settle for this, you see. So I think we have a very big problem in regard to this. It's just like the schools thing you see. You know there is an element that says we can't be having your British public school sort of thing, the public school of course in Britain is a private school, Eton and Harrow and all these places. Now we've got our own, Michaelhouse, Bishops, we've got our own equivalents and the Afrikaner equivalents as well, and African equivalents. Now a chap who has got money can either decide to buy a Mercedes Benz car or he can decide to send his children to a posh school and he is prepared to pay fees to see that his children get the best possible education. Now we come along and say, oh no, that chap in that private school we mustn't encourage that and in fact we mustn't give them any kind of support. If they want to be independent let them be independent and the state has got nothing to do with that. Everybody must be in a school of the same standard. Well you're dreaming. It didn't happen in Russia at the height of communism, the top brass had schools for their children and their schools were superior to all the other schools for the other people. So we are having a problem there. We are busy destroying the whole network of private schools, giving them a hell of a time, and hoping that your state school system is going to produce the kind of excellence which comes from the private schools.

POM     Experience the world over shows that doesn't happen.

JM     It doesn't happen. It hasn't happened in Britain under Labour Party governments. The Labour Party leadership right now is under attack because their children are not in the state school system, they are in the private schools.

POM     It doesn't happen in the United States.

JM     Everywhere. Everybody would like his girl in the United States to go to Vassar but it's not going to happen because the fees and everything else and atmosphere and so on, it's prohibitive. My granddaughter has just gone to her mother's school in England, Bruton School for Girls in Somerset, and my daughter was the only black at that school 30 years ago. Her daughter is the only black in the school 30 years later.

POM     Do you tell Tony Blair this?

JM     Just because, look here, who's going to pay £10,000 a term or something. So we are having the same thing. I just keep quiet. I listen to these arguments in parliament and I just think our friends in the ANC will eventually have to understand the real world, they will just have to understand that the real world is not like that, or the real world is too expensive. You can't do it because it costs too much. So you must try and say the rich people, encourage them to have their private schools, don't discourage them. Rather provide scholarships to poor children to go to those schools or do something, but to think that you are going to force this uniformity which we are having in the Schools' Bill which I think is being voted on today, it's not going to work.

POM     It's human nature not to aspire to equality but to get ahead.

JM     Yes, yes. Each one judges, you judge yourself. You as a family, every family has a strategy, every family sits down and they work out a strategy. The strategy may be wrong, may be mistaken but the family decides, for example, we must educate the eldest son. That's a strategy. The others will have to stop at a certain point and go to the factor or whatever. Certain decisions are being made. Now if you said to a chap, look here I can get you accommodation in Mayfair in London, a chap from the East End of London will tell you I don't even want to go there, I don't want to live in Mayfair. So the human side of it, which was of course the big problem with the communist experiment, a good experiment, I think we make a mistake by denigrating the experiment even with its Stalinist perversions, but some people thought that if you have good intentions you can do all sorts of things and you can change the world and so on and so on, and you ended up with some of the most corrupt systems. The Germans are shocked at what they thought was an incorrupt East German government only to find after the Wall fell, to discover places they never knew about, hospitals, clinics for the leaders, housing, I mean Ceaucescu's palace, things which people didn't even know about, the corruption that was going on because we are human and that human condition we have not yet solved the problem of how to get uniform behaviour and uniform standards.

POM     We never will. We would lose our humanity.

JM     Yes we would cease to have free will and to think for ourselves and so on. It's an interesting sort of dilemma this idea.

POM     Sorry, you were saying the communists?

JM     Plato, this platonic idea that philosophers, because of their understanding, because of their intelligence, would be able to run the world and run a state better than it is run under a democratic system. Well, in a sense the communist experiment was one in which ideologues with all the best intentions were going to run the state on behalf of people's welfare. And they ended up with the Gulag Archipelago all in the name of the people, the welfare, detentions, purges, cruelties, wars, all done by people who said they were doing all this in the cause of the common man. It's a tragic, in a way it's an enormous tragedy which shows how we human beings must be very careful at playing God and thinking we can decide things for others and Churchill, I think, was right to say, well the democratic system is the worst form of government except all the others.

POM     Do you know what I would like to do, would it be possible, I'm here until the beginning of December, to schedule another session with you? Later on it would be.

JM     No problem.

POM     Because you're a terrific interview. We've touched upon some fascinating themes that I would like to get this tape transcribed, go through it and raise some of them. I think part of what I hear from you, and we can maybe explore it at greater length the next time, is that because Mr Mandela and some of the others in the upper echelons of the ANC were part of the black elite and in their working lives mixed easily and well with the white elite and were well regarded for their professionalism and their intelligence and certainly weren't looked upon as kind of third rate human beings, that this made it easier for him to engage in even negotiations while he was in jail, made it easier for the regime to engage in negotiations with him as being somebody of almost an equal standing and made it easier for the transition to work at that level and accounts for part of his emphasis on the need to keep white managerial skill and expertise in the country, that that is part of the engine that will drive the economy, drive economic growth, drive progress for all.

JM     You put it very well. This is the crux. I think you have described it exactly. It's the crux of the issue because if you have a common language and a common starting point I believe that there were enough factors that were common to make it possible to produce what we call the South African miracle. I don't regard it as a miracle because I think many far-sighted people both on the white side and the black side recognised quite early that those common factors would eventually produce what they called a common society. That phrase was coined by liberals in South Africa, a common society, as against what was being preached, separate societies, separate facilities, separate everything. And there were those who were saying, no, like Hoernlé [Professor Alfred Hoernlé] you see people like Hoernlé who wrote on the liberal spirit, and my father by the way delivered the Hoernlé Memorial Lecture. He was a great liberal, he was one of the founders, he led to the foundation of the Institute of Race Relations. And you've got people of this type on the white side and on the black side who were preaching the seemingly impossible that the whites and the blacks in this country would eventually sit down and work out a common position and live in the same country.

     And everything you looked at was suggesting the opposite but there were people who could see beneath the surface appearance who were saying, oh no, no, no, there are certain factors which are going to produce a different solution in South Africa from the one we had either in the Portuguese colonies, Mozambique and Angola, or the Belgian colony, Zaire, where the colonists left unceremoniously and people said but the situation here is worse than those places in terms of racial discrimination and so on therefore the Apocalypse is going to occur in South Africa and the commentators said no, it's not going to happen in South Africa. In South Africa they are going to solve the problem.

     And I think we should look at those factors. It's not like, say, Israel and Arabs where there are so many factors that are not common, their religion for a start, it becomes an obstacle. It becomes a religious thing and then the Jewish community, especially those who came from Europe and so on, they are Europeans, Americans and Europeans. All right the ones who grew up in the old Palestine they speak Arabic and perhaps there is some sort of link between them and the Arabs but what about the European Jew or the American Jew? Whereas the South African black and the South African white they share too many common things, too many commonalties and they began to recognise it. There is virtually no resistance to negotiations. Isn't that interesting? That the whole idea of negotiations you would expect that there would be a radical wing among the blacks which would be saying no you can't negotiate, no you can't do this and that and so on. The radical wing got one percent of the vote in the general election, the PAC got nothing.

     So it's a powerful factor this common economy, common facilities, there were so many things common that the things which were dividing them were actually not as significant in the end. So we now have the paradox that what buttresses this state is a basically white officered army, for instance. No contradiction at all. The same army which traditionally should have been putting down any kind of black and they are the people who have to be the main support of this constitutional state. The police, the vast bulk of my management is white and they have to arrest white people in order to sustain this government and I think myself that it is this adherence to law, for example, having so many lawyers among the blacks who are in the leadership and the rule of law, Mandela's reaction to the KwaMakutha; you look at his reaction to the acquittal of General Malan and others, typical lawyer's reaction. You have got to accept the decision of the court otherwise we have got chaos. There must be institutions that are respected. Very orthodox, very correct legal answer. Would he have said that if he was not a lawyer who had himself, a practising lawyer with a huge practice, he made his money out of law, wouldn't he have said politically correct, he would have said it was a white judge, it is a white judge releasing generals, white generals. That's how a political person would have reacted but a lawyer, a respected a member of the profession is going to rather stick by his profession and say that you must accept the decision of the judge.

POM     I'll leave it there for the moment.

JM     OK.

POM     Thank you ever so much. It's fascinating.

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.