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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

11 Mar 1997: Omar, Dullah

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POM     Minister, let me start with a question that we explored a bit last year and that is that many people say there is a dichotomy between what would be called a civil rights culture in the liberation movement which makes it slow to enact tough measures regarding criminal legislation, that more often legislation favours protecting the rights of the accused than the rights of the victim and they cite as examples, again, the death penalty, the curb on the use of firearms in the police, the low bail restrictions and the general feeling that criminals have easy accessibility to the streets after they have been arrested.

DO     I think that it was very difficult for anyone to anticipate the kind of problems in practical terms, in concrete terms that we would be facing as we go along. If we look back to 1994, the election period, the main problem as we saw it was to prevent an all out civil war in the country, a kind of war between right wing elements joining forces with elements within the black community who were also opposed to the national liberation struggle, so I think that there was a great emphasis on political violence, on bringing political violence to an end. We only assumed governmental responsibilities after 10th May 1994 and we could only begin to develop a sensitivity and an understanding of the kind of problems governments face after that period. It was not the kind of problem we could anticipate at all. I do not think it's a question of slow response, it is a question of dealing with the immediate problems that we faced and of course the fact that we were new in government, beginning to develop an understanding of the kind of issues which required priority attention. There were of course many, many issues. I think that if you consider the fact that we have been in office for just about three years emerging from a period of resistance and liberation struggle with no experience in government, our response has been fairly quick.

POM     But do you give any credence to the argument that many of the people in key positions like yourself who came out of a very strong civil rights culture and that the protection of the individual, particularly the protection of the disadvantaged where many of the criminals were merely disadvantaged people, somehow has taken precedence over harsh law and order measures like the crackdown that you see on crime in many other countries who are at a comparable level?

DO     Well I think it was only natural that emerging as we did from a period of repression and the harshness of apartheid reality which used law, which used law and order, which used the courts and the police against the anti-apartheid struggle, that there would be a greater emphasis on liberating our people and entrenching civil and human rights of individuals. I would say yes to imperatives of having to move towards law and order and legitimising law and order was a process that we had to go through and we could not have done it in any other way.

POM     So it had to be through an incremental process of - ?

DO     It had to be through a process of, first of all, establishing the values for which we fought for so many generations, so many decades, then establishing law and order as being legitimate and having done that to then take the necessary steps taking into account the concrete situation with which we were faced.

POM     So what would you say to the many critics of government who say that more attention is paid to the rights of the perpetrators of crime than to the rights of the victims of crime?

DO     I think we inherited a legacy which cannot be dealt with in a very short space of time. There are no quick fixes. Even if one speaks about victims we have had over 300 years of white rule in our country and victims have always been neglected. We have never had a criminal justice system which played victims on the centre stage of attention. We have never had a restorative justice principle being applied anywhere. The notion of compensation for victims, addressing the concerns of victims when they deal with the police or when they appear in court, all those sensitivities just did not exist so it has got nothing to do with the liberation movement coming into office. It's a legacy which we inherited and we had to address a large number of things at the same time. If you only take the area of criminal law, South Africa was not in a position to accede to the Vienna Convention on the combating of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. It could not because it simply did not have the laws in place and so in our very first two or three years in office we have developed adequate legislation in that regard, got that legislation through parliament and South Africa is now in a position to move forward towards acceding to the Vienna Convention. We developed a protocol in SADEC on the same subject and that also is a matter which didn't just fall from the sky, it had to be worked on, SADEC countries had to meet because unless we have co-operation within the Southern African region we would not succeed in our struggle against drug trafficking, money laundering because we are dealing with trans-national crime. So that is one level of activity.

     There are other levels of activity simplifying criminal procedures. We inherited eleven departments of justice, eleven departments of police, for example. We had quickly to move towards creating single departments so that we have uniform justice in our country. Our constitution says that everyone is entitled to equality  before the law. We are not going to have equality before the law until we have a uniform justice system in the country so we had to devote a lot of time towards creating that basis. There were different laws applicable in different parts of the South African territory. Again we had to create uniformity by rationalising laws, all those things took time. With regard to issues such as juvenile justice, for example, we have been conducting enquiries, we have asked the Law Commission to look into the matter and come up with a new juvenile justice law in our country. It is new for South Africa but it doesn't happen overnight.

     In relation to women, for example, we have been moving towards adopting a law which is in line with that of many other countries in the world relating to domestic violence. The Law Commission has been busy with this particular aspect as well. With regard to the adequacy of our criminal law and procedure I think that can only be tested in practice in line with the constitution as we go along.

     So whilst on the one hand I think that our emphasis when we began was to establish our democracy and our human rights culture and therefore the rights of the individual, I think we, as a result of our understanding of governmental responsibility, began to work on those areas which would bring out permanent solutions for establishing legitimate law and order. Another example of that is the national crime prevention strategy which was developed and I think that not enough attention has been given by many commentators to the importance of the national crime prevention strategy in relation to this very question.

POM     Let me just take one crime in particular, the crime of rape. Rape is committed I think once every 83 seconds in South Africa, that's the figure that was quoted to me.

DO     Well different people give different figures, but it is a serious matter.

POM     Yet in terms of the norms of other countries the sentences handed down for rape are relatively low sentences compared to, for example, the United States where rape would get you 25 years to life. Here it's very often three to five years, it's not a high priority crime in terms of the sentencing that is meted out for the crime in question.

DO     It is a high priority crime for government. We inherited a court system, the same magistrates, the same judges who we had under the apartheid years and it is too much to expect that on the 11th May 1994, one day after elections, there would suddenly be a change in the courts as at many other levels of our society and so we have been engaging in a process of reforming our courts, of developing the sensitivity of our courts, appealing to our courts to recognise the seriousness of crime. For example, even though our constitution and law gave courts a discretion with regard to bail we as government made it very clear that we expect our courts to be much more strict on the question of bail in the case of serious crimes and I consider rape to be a very serious violation and a very serious crime. We have often expressed our dismay at the fact that the courts have not seen fit to refuse bail in the types of crimes which affect the communities.

     So the reform of our courts and sensitising our courts to the problems of the communities was a very important thing. At the same time we did not want to interfere with the discretion of courts. We wanted our courts to use their discretion sensitive to the needs of our people and the concerns of people, particularly in relation to crimes against women, children, crimes of murder, motor car hijacking, serious cases of robbery, violations of persons in general. It is a good thing that a court should have a discretion with regard to sentencing because a court is then able to take all factors into account. We have been observing over a period of one and a half to two years that in our view very often sentences were imposed in these serious cases which are inadequate and it is for that reason that during the course of last year we began to consult and develop an approach to sentencing which is going to result in legislation requiring minimum sentences to be imposed. I have legislation already prepared and it will go to parliament this year for the imposition of minimum sentences. I do that with regret because I prefer a situation where a judiciary would be able to exercise its own discretion from case to case and unfortunately the fact that the courts have been imposing the kind of low sentences which you mention compels us to move in that particular direction. The same relates to the question of bail. We amended the bail law in 1995, late 1995 to give courts more power to refuse bail in these serious cases. We have observed that bail law in operation for about a year now, it has been successful in many respects but there are certain areas of concern and so we are looking at further legislation to tighten the bail law and make it obligatory to refuse bail in certain types of cases.

POM     Why do you think that in a country where crime is the number one issue, the pervasive issue that's talked about abroad, when one talks about South Africa it's associated with high levels of crime, why in that situation do you think that judges haven't developed the sensitivity to realise that harsher penalties are the first deterrent to certain kinds of crime?  Why are they still so lenient? Is it because of their goodwill or is it because there are still elements of the old order, it's kind of a perpetration of the old order by handing out minimum sentences rather than tougher sentences because it perpetuates the crime problem rather than alleviates it?

DO     Yes of course we are talking of minimum sentences in order to have tougher sentences imposed. The idea of a minimum sentence is to prevent a court from imposing lenient sentences. So when we speak of minimum sentences we are thinking in terms of a sentence of not less than - it may be ten years, fifteen years for particular types of offences. That would prevent courts from imposing two or three years imprisonment on perpetrators of these crimes.

POM     Why do courts give these low sentences in view of the seriousness of the crime problem? It is sending a message to criminals that even if you get caught and if you get convicted that you're not going to be sent away for very long time so it's worth the risk.

DO     I think it is a combination of factors and in fairness to our courts it is not only a problem in the courts, it is a problem which pervades the whole criminal justice system. The problem is that during the apartheid years the main focus was not on the kind of crimes that we are talking about. During the apartheid years the main focus was to maintain apartheid order and the security of the state. Those were the serious crimes and our police, our courts and everyone else were geared towards that particular objective. That objective disappeared. We now have a democracy and I dare say that there were many people in the old establishment, including our judicial system, who still have both their feet in the old order, so that elements of the old order continue to live on. So there is a combination of factors, I think, which make courts do the things which they do. One would be a failure on their part to adjust themselves to a democratic order in which the maintenance of law and order and the protection of human life and dignity should be high priority and I don't think that there has been an adequate adjustment in that regard and it's one of the reasons why we have launched training programmes for magistrates and judges to ensure that an adequate appreciation of the priorities in the new South African democracy does exist. A court's handling of a matter is also dependent upon the way evidence is presented in court. In the apartheid years the police arrested people, beat the hell out of them, got confessions from them and so many convictions in court were based upon confessions which were very often challenged but unsuccessfully. The police have to work in a different way today. They cannot beat the hell out of a person, you can't extract a confession through torture and beating up. You must obtain evidence and bring evidence to court and that process, I think, has been difficult for that section of the criminal justice system.

     I know once again that in the police a great deal of training is taking place to teach people better detection methods, gathering of evidence, organising witnesses so that you come to court with proper evidence. The criminal justice system in a democracy may be a little bit more cumbersome, there are greater requirements of fair play and less on the repressive methods of securing evidence and therefore conviction and I think that that process of adjustment has been difficult. Then we also have our prosecutors who need to ensure that they handle cases in a way which takes into account the dynamics of the new constitution and present adequate evidence to court. So there again a period of adjustment is required in the same way as in the case of the police, that you cannot simply come to court and tell the court do this, do that, you must present evidence. Courts are no longer able to take arbitrary decisions which they were so used to every day of their lives in the old order. Their arbitrariness has to be replaced by a fair judicial process and that fair judicial process requires that the police must ensure that evidence is organised, prosecutors need to ensure that they present the evidence to the court and courts have to ensure that they judge on the basis of evidence.

     So it's a whole change of mind-set and I think that that transformation of a justice system is a painful process which we are experiencing and we need to hasten that as quickly as possible and that is why training programmes and developing an understanding of the constitution in practical terms is very important. So what I am saying is that it is not only the problem that judges and magistrates are not doing their work, or that they are not sympathetic to the needs of the new situation, I think it's a combination of factors.

POM     Since you became minister in 1994 how have the resources at your disposal increased or decreased given the need to meet the budget deficit target of 4%, the cut back on services? Have you more prosecutors at your disposal, have you more investigators at your disposal? Have you less? Are you doing an increasingly difficult job with increasingly less resources?

DO     Yes I'm doing more work I think than, say, a previous department of justice. Just looking at it technically, leaving the political aspects aside, the Department of Justice has greater functions now than it had during the apartheid years. Firstly, we have to implement a constitution, we have to give life to the constitution in the sense that we had to create a Judicial Service Commission, we had to create a Constitutional Court, we had to create the office of the Public Protector, the office of the Human Rights Commission, the Gender Equality Commission. The creation of the Land Claims Court was put in our lot, also the new labour courts were put in our lot. Those are huge tasks. We promoted legislation to deal with them, drafted the various regulations, the practical aspects of setting up all those courts, including the Constitutional Court and then seeing to it that everything in respect of all those courts and structures run. So there are huge responsibilities and increasing responsibilities and, for the reasons which I've mentioned, more difficult work in our courts because once you must observe provisions of a constitution and a Bill of Rights the prosecutor's task comes much more difficult, he has to spend much more time on a case, he needs to prepare better, understand the constitution, be able to argue legal and constitutional points.

     Now as a result  of that I think our work has become more difficult, more complex and the work load has increased. Unfortunately there has not  been an increase in personnel and our resources have been reduced. We have had a reduction in our budget and I hope to persuade the Department of State Expenditure that it is moving in the wrong direction. Maybe I have not been persuasive enough but it is very important that more money should be spent on the justice process, on the police, on our justice department and on correction services, not to lock up everybody all and sundry all over the place but to give the department that latitude to ensure that the justice system works as effectively as it should in a democracy. I think the issue of resources is a big issue.

POM     When I read yesterday or the day before that the number of police had declined in the last couple of years I was horrified. You have horrific crime levels and yet the number of police actually on the payroll are being reduced rather than increased. Doesn't it make your task between Justice and Safety and Security almost impossible if you are faced with increased burdens, increased responsibility and diminishing resources to handle those responsibilities and especially when those two areas, particularly crime, so effectively define the image of the country internationally?

DO     I think that superficially the argument that the moratorium placed upon expansion of the Police Service is a critical mistake. That argument is very attractive but superficially so. The Minister of Safety & Security has dealt with this matter and indicated that there is an inappropriate use of personnel and there needs to be rationalisation at many levels. He has given examples here, you have half a dozen trained policemen who ought to be on the streets sitting in offices, for example, doing all kinds of ordinary, humdrum office work. You have senior policemen sitting with vehicles at their police stations or at their homes instead of being used effectively, taking into account the need to preserve the resources. And so he is working on a plan which would ensure that instead of policemen sitting in their offices that they are out on the streets, correct the rationalisation, and that you use other people perhaps who can no longer be on the street, older people, volunteers, civilians, women who cannot be out on the streets under certain circumstances, in offices, so that you release other people. In other words he is thinking in terms of rationalisation and he says that before you bring more people into the police you need to rationalise the working and I think there is a very comprehensive, serious programme taking place within Safety & Security in order to rationalise in that way. But I think at the same time we should be sensitive to the need to ensure that there is adequate personnel.

     The second point that the Minister of Safety & Security has made is that the allocation of resources has been skewed according to the dictates of apartheid, with all the resources concentrated in the affluent white areas and very little resources and police in the essentially black areas, disadvantaged communities have been poorly serviced and so you need a reallocation of resources as well. But that having been said I think that he, the minister, is conscious of the need, subject to resources allowing, to ensure that there is adequate provision of police. He has also embarked upon a policy of developing the Community Policing Forums and Neighbourhood Watches in different parts of the country because maintaining safety and security is the duty of communities and the police acting together and he is encouraging the building up of that kind of partnership and in many communities where Community Policing Forums and Neighbourhood Watches do exist they are able to cope with a minimum of policemen and policewomen and that close partnership ensures the safety and security of communities, and so I think that's the right direction but I do not exclude the need for more policemen and policewomen in certain situations.

POM     I have three more things I'd like to cover quickly. One is the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. You met with Archbishop Tutu last Friday to discuss the question of police informants and the naming of police informants. Was that issue satisfactorily dealt with? Is there unanimity on everybody's side that all informers, particularly if they now occupy positions in government, must be exposed?

DO     Yes I think that it was satisfactory resolved. Our view is that all the information should be made public because unless we make it public we cannot cleanse our society, ourselves, even our organisations and begin to create an atmosphere in which people have confidence in each other. So I think that cleansing process, and therefore disclosure, is very, very important.

POM     What I find confusing is that one hears Mr Mandela say that he might consider firing somebody who is a minister if it turns out that they had been an informant for the police, when it would seem to me that there is no difference between an informant and a collaborator and that that person is immediately just, period, fired, they are out of public life, they're out of the party, they in fact have been part of the apartheid system and could still be working for it.

DO     Yes, you know that situation during the apartheid years was perhaps much more complex. I suppose all struggle situations are complex. You don't just have two extremes of right and wrong, you have people drawn into situations and at different levels they do things which one would find abhorrent. I was chair of UDF in the Western Cape when I received information that a couple of persons who were in our council, meeting with us under very difficult conditions, we used to meet secretly, but there were a couple of people who were reporting to various arms of the old apartheid establishment and we took no action against the two. We decided that we would rather know who the informants are in our ranks than have people who we don't know and we learnt to live with that kind of situation. Those people are still around, not necessarily in our organisation but they are still around, no harm has come to them. So it was a complex situation at that time. I myself, of course, have been an internal man, I was never allowed to leave the country so I was what you call an 'inxile' not an exile.  So the dynamic inside the ANC whilst in exile I only know about through hearsay and discussion. But it is a process that we have to go through. Transition I think is always a little bit painful but I think the ANC is ready to do whatever it has to.

POM     Is there any suggestion that some of the names that might emerge as being informants are in fact names that are being placed by counter-intelligence or that people worked for the police as double agents in order to bring information back to the ANC?

DO     You see I think there was a great deal of disinformation by elements within the old apartheid establishment. The third force activities within the apartheid regime I think had many tentacles, one of them was disinformation and smearing individuals, creating suspicion. I can only speak of my own years, during the UDF years I often had to deal with situations where UDF and AZAPO or PAC people were at each other's throats and my own view was always that the seed for that kind of conflict was planted by elements in the apartheid regime through creating disinformation. There was always somebody who created a suspicion that X belonging to AZAPO was an informer or so-and-so in UDF did this and then they would be at each other's throats. So disinformation was a fine art practised by the apartheid regime. The components of the third force they have not disappeared and my view is that they continue to operate, they continue to sow discord and create problems in our society and we must just be very careful that in dealing with this matter of people who acted as informers for the former regime, that we do not allow disinformation to destabilise ourselves.

POM     Can one really take seriously the word of Joe Mamasela who says he knows five senior ministers, that he flew people into Vlakplaas, that he went to Botswana and other countries and gave them payments, that they received debriefings.

DO     I would be very cautious and I would not just take what people like Mamasela say at face value.

POM     At the same time President Mandela has said that he had received information from intelligence sources that people in high positions in government, not necessarily cabinet, had been informants but he had, again, preferred not to act on that information. Is that partly because of what you were talking about, that it's better to know that they were involved than monitor them now? Were you aware of such intelligence reports yourself?

DO     I cannot say that. As I say, I joined the ANC in 1990 and the ANC leadership coming into the country was aware of the fact that the ANC suffered from the presence of informers and collaborators who had been infiltrated into the organisation. That is the one level of activity which wreaked havoc in ANC camps for example, there was all kinds of discord sown by agents of the regime who had been sent in to infiltrate and it was very easy for the apartheid regime to infiltrate the ANC under the guise of people joining the ANC ostensibly to participate in the armed struggle. That was one level that we were very much aware of and remained aware of. The level in respect of which President Mandela has been speaking is an area that I'm not actually aware of and I am sure that at National Executive or NWC level that these matters would be discussed and clarified. But there is no panic in the organisation in dealing with these matters. I think that people expect that skeletons must come out and that we must clear the decks once and for all.

POM     Three last very, very quick questions. One is on Clive Derby-Lewis. In your view should he qualify for amnesty or should amnesty be ruled out and would you support the Hani family in their opposition to amnesty for Clive Derby-Lewis?

DO     I would rather not give a personal opinion in view of the fact that I am the minister, though I fully understand Mrs Hani's opposition to amnesty and I would urge that her representation should be given serious consideration.

POM     Yet when Dr Boesak was coming back into the country, something for which you took a lot of flak for, in the last week you were supportive of his coming back and even went so far as to say that neither the President, the cabinet, the Minister for Justice or anybody else had been consulted about the impending prosecution, suggesting that you should have been. Were you being reported correctly?

DO     My statement said that none of us were consulted or asked our views. That is a statement of fact and I think that the South African public is entitled to know that that is the situation.

POM     Do you find suggestions in the newspapers, there is the insinuation that you are saying that you ought to have been told about the impending prosecution?

DO     Well that is the insinuation coming from the old white establishment that is still here and I don't pay serious attention to that at all. I expect that kind of response from the white establishment. It is not a perception in black communities. Black communities understand what I say. They know that the Attorneys General take decisions which are often puzzling to many of us. The priorities of the Attorneys General are often puzzling to us though we have done nothing to interfere with their independence and the execution of their functions.  For me to state what is a fact I think is important for people to know.

POM     The Attorney General is still part of the old order?

DO     The Attorney General in the Western Cape was appointed during the apartheid years. I am not saying that he is a person steeped in the old ways. We work together, we co-operate where we have to co-operate. I am merely stating a fact that that has been the situation in the Boesak case. There have been many other kinds of cases in our area and the Attorney General decides what his priorities are. My own priorities may have been different if I were Attorney General but I'm not. So I think it is important that people should know that we have had no hand in the prosecution.

POM     Second is this theory of Hernus Kriel and within the National Party, the National Party conundrum and split or whatever you want to call it, cracking up or trying to redefine itself where you have the so-called Hernus Kriel factor who want to take the white vote here and the coloured vote here and amalgamate it and use it as a wedge against the African vote and turn this into the last bastion of National Party power.  Do you think the National Party are pursuing that kind of strategy where they are trying to turn coloured people against Africans, where they encourage coloured fears of Africans of what might happen to them under African rule?

DO     Yes I think so, I think that the NP is playing a very dangerous game. It is very  easy to whip up racist feeling and this is not just a question of fear, it is a question of racism, whipping up racist feelings and instilling fears based upon racist attitudes. I think it's a dangerous game that the NP is playing. It is against the spirit of our constitution, it is against the spirit of nation building but it is a selfish attitude in an attempt to maintain a foothold for the NP in government in the Western Cape. I think there are two aspects to it. One, treating the Cape as if it is an island unto itself and therefore not developing a broad South African patriotism which is very important in this period. Secondly, creating divisions within the Western Cape which can have national implications on racial lines. In a sense they are continuing their old game but in a new guise. They need the fodder, coloured votes, in order to enable them to maintain that toe-hold and they are doing everything in their power to develop anti-African sentiment.

POM     So what do you find the greatest fear of coloured people to be about Africans?

DO     You see our problem at that level is that the resources have always been allocated on a skewed and a racial basis with Africans right at the bottom of the ladder with coloured and Indian in between and with whites right on top and so once you tamper with that and you try to create equity in our society then those who have been privileged in the past begin to lose those privileges and when faced with that situation people respond angrily that you are acting against them, that you are favouring Africans and so on, which is not the case. If you just look at the Western Cape the poorest of the poor are the Africans. It is they who live in squatter camps all over the Western Cape. It is they who bear the main burden of unemployment, lack of housing, lack of facilities, terrible conditions in schools and when you begin to tamper with the unequal allocation of resources seeking to introduce equity it does evoke a response among those who have received a little bit more of the crumbs than others.

POM     So coloured people think that they would be the losers in any redistribution? They will be caught between the whites, who won't lose anything, and the Africans.

DO     No I must say that it is not the general view of coloured people. It is a view of many in the coloured community who are the most vulnerable, those who are unemployed, those who can lose their jobs and are unable to pay their rent, in other words the poor working class sectors of the coloured community. But there are large sections of the coloured community who do not think that way, who in fact support all efforts to establish equity. What you have is whites almost voting as a block for the NP and having the support of a section of the coloured people thereby giving them the majority, but if you had to exclude the whites from the equation I think most of the coloureds would vote the opposite way.

POM     So it's Kriel playing a very conscious racial polarisation game?

DO     Yes I think so.

POM     Do you think he's doing this with the approval of 'the new National Party' like the Roelf Meyers, that it's all part of a grand strategy, that they're trying to break away from that?

DO     I think that people like Meyer realise that that card can work in the short term but that in the long term it spells disaster for the NP. Meyer realises that it is never a national option, that they can never become a party with a strong national presence if they pursue the kind of policy that creates divisions. Kriel thinks of the Western Cape, Meyer thinks of the country as a whole and I don't think that Meyer can support the kind of options which Kriel is engaged in.

POM     Do you think the NP has any chance of reconstructing itself in some form of new movement that will attract large numbers of black voters whom they have oppressed so thoroughly for 40 years?  They haven't even really turned around and said to the Truth Commission that we're really sorry for what we did.

DO     No I don't think the NP, I don't want to be smug about it, the NP is supported by very powerful forces in the business sector in our society who have benefited from apartheid. The main beneficiaries of apartheid were never the white workers and the masses of white voters who supported the NP, but sectors of business, they were the main beneficiaries of apartheid and so many of them continue to support the NP. But the dilemma before the NP is that if they want to win black votes then they have got to abandon the Kriel option. If they abandon the Kriel option that's the end of the NP in the Western Cape, so it's a dilemma for the NP and I don't know how they are going to get out of it. It's an insoluble problem I think which faces the NP.

POM     Do you not think it's an insult to black people for the NP to come along four or five years after apartheid has ended and say, hey, we have mended our ways, we accept the new South African, forget the past, vote for us we are the party of the future, after you have oppressed so thoroughly and so completely?

DO     Absolutely, it's a gross insult to people who have suffered at the hands of the NP for so many years or the many, many families who have lost loved ones and who in the face of the terrible deeds that were committed under NP rule, for the NP to present itself as being the party of democracy is quite laughable.

POM     Why don't they get this? Why doesn't an intelligent man like Roelf Meyer say this is ridiculous, we can't turn around and ask people that we jailed, tortured, mutilated, murdered, sent our security people out, as is emerging every day before the Truth Commission, we make semi-apologetic but not really apologetic submissions to the Truth Commission, and yet we turn around to the black community and say vote for us, we're a better party than the ANC, we can do better for you.

DO     During the worst years of apartheid they defended that system and when apartheid started crumbling they had to find other ways but they still cling to old ways and I think very much they are victims of their own propaganda. The NP propaganda machinery has been so pervasive that they themselves have been the victims of that machinery. It's very difficult for them to break from the past. It's very difficult for them to be objective about the situation. It is easier for people to say nazism was bad. I attended a discussion with an NP leader on who should be in charge of Robben Island and I said that you can't put NP people in charge of Robben Island. They were horrified that I could be so biased. I then said, "Ask the Jews in Germany or elsewhere in the world whether they would put Nazis or ex-Nazis in charge of the Holocaust Museum to show people around and explain to them." It's just totally incongruous, it can't happen. It's easy to understand that about Europe but people who are here find it, like people in the NP, find it very difficult to understand it about South Africa.

POM     They do not get it. Is there is a mental block that they don't really understand what they did in the past? Have they blocked it out?

DO     You see the NP never accepted the logic of negotiation, that it must lead to a new democracy, it must lead to transformation and it must therefore lead to the transformation of people as well. The NP entered negotiations in the hope that they would save the pieces and keep the essential structure of relations between black and white intact. That of course did not happen, the ANC did not enter negotiations with that object in mind and we are well on the road to transformation and I don't think it's easy for them to adjust themselves to that situation.

POM     Last question, and thank you for the overtime, but we do it once a year, Dr Basson, is this a case that's being played again out of all proportion or was it a serious mistake on the part of the government to re-hire him?

DO     I unfortunately cannot really comment on that, it was done by the military. I think events over the next few months would reveal whether there has been a mistake or not. I am very concerned about the fact that there were people in the old apartheid order who participated in the production of capacity to wage chemical warfare. There are suggestions that part of that would have been directed against the black population in our country itself so not an external enemy but what was perceived to be the internal enemy, which I think is another aspect of what was happening under NP rule, under the apartheid regime. Sooner or later I think the complicity of the apartheid government, the NP, in that particular kind of activity needs to be exposed.

POM     But the decision to re-hire him was essentially taken by an ANC dominated government.

DO     The decision to hire him has been explained by the Minister of Defence.

POM     Do you find that a satisfactory explanation or does it disturb you that a man of his calibre and somebody who had been fired by the NP government under pressure from the ANC would be re-hired by an ANC dominated government?

DO     I am not in a position to say that. I would like to see what unfolds. The Ministry of Defence may have more information than I have and I would wait for the court case to unfold and then decide. I don't think that one can answer that question one way or another at this stage, or at least I would not like to. I know what the popular feeling is, that it was wrong to re-employ him.

POM     Lastly, the TRC was supposed to encourage reconciliation yet the feeling I get from talking to people is that whites really don't care, they have blocked the whole thing out. You have people getting up there in the witness stand and they are applying for amnesty and they are looking at their watch and saying I've got to talk for another half an hour, confess to another five murders and then I've made my application and I'm out of here and I'm a free man, and that whites still think it's a witch-hunt of a sort. They really knew nothing of these activities, they are angry at  being collectively accused as being part of a system that produced such abuses of human rights. And on the other hand you have rising black anger that as they learn more and more about the type of atrocities that were committed against them and not just the people who were killed but the way and the barbarity that accompanied the killings, that their anger is increasing and that rather than there being a spirit of forgiveness fostered, to me it seems in a way you have a greater polarisation at many levels.

DO     No I think that that assessment is completely wrong. There is a degree of anger always welling up but there is never a call for revenge.  Anger is a good thing, nothing wrong with anger. I too am very angry about what happened. At the same time we direct our anger at constructive things like rebuilding our country, making sure that transformation takes place, that we deal with those aspects and that we ensure that there is some form of justice and that's what the TRC is doing. There should be greater emphasis on the worth of the Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee to ensure that the victims' concerns are addressed and I think that that is an area that needs far greater emphasis than has been the case up to now. I think it's been a wonderful process because the committee on human rights violations has done excellent work to give people a platform, people have expressed what happened to them, the suffering they have gone through, the iniquities of the apartheid regime and then the amnesty process has been located within that kind of thing and you are quite right, there are many whites who see this as a witch-hunt, are angry about it and who prefer it to be covered up. We are not going to allow that. The mere fact that they have to apply for amnesty, that they have got to make full disclosure is in itself something that they resent very much but they are forced to do it. So the remarkable thing about the process is that it is uncovering a great deal about the past and the big challenge before us is to manage that process in a way which will in fact lay the basis for genuine reconciliation. That is why I am saying that as this process unfolds the work of the third committee becomes much more important than the other two.

POM     That's the Reparations Committee.

DO     Reparation and Rehabilitation. I met with that sub-committee last week to discuss that aspect with them and to say to them that I would fully support all their efforts to give greater prominence to their work and for them to flex their muscles much more to ensure that there is a degree of justice. So I must say that I am not alarmed about the developments. I am also angry but I think that the TRC is managing the process.

POM     OK. Thank you ever so much.

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.