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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

12 Mar 1997: Malan, Wynand

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POM     Let me begin by asking you whether you think that the Truth & Reconciliation Commission is achieving the objectives of reconciliation and unity? Most whites to whom I talk have turned off from the process so to speak, regard it as a witch-hunt in some regards. In the black community I feel that rather than there being what Archbishop Tutu called ubuntu, the spirit of forgiveness, that in fact there is increasing anger as they hear more and more of these atrocities revealed and realise that these murderers are going to walk.

WM     I have your question. I have no doubt that the process of disclosure, of uncovering itself, is more polarising, more conflict creative than it is reconciliatory. The mere adage that truth is pure reconciliation is nonsense. It may be a pre-condition but it does aggravate the condition from where one needs to move forward. Now that in itself the commission, to my mind and liking, has not been achieving and not focusing on. It is a very, very difficult thing and I personally would simply look at two fields. The one is a re-framing of the judgement on the past by getting more into understanding the motives and perspectives of both perpetrators and victims. We have not done much to publicise that or even to analyse it. That is a charge in terms of the Act. We need to move there. We have recently been instructing researchers to look more at that, an analysis of our data. So explaining and understanding the conflict, what went for what? Why did people do what? Who responded to whom? How did this spiral develop and how did we get to cutting into the spiral, sort of down-spiralling again getting to the new democratic constitution and elections? That needs to be explained so people can see the past in the context of the past, not in the context of the present. You can never explain another era's happenings in terms of or in the frame of the present era so you need to get to understanding the frame simply for understanding purposes. This is not rationalising it but I strongly believe if one understands why another person did X to me then it's easier to cope with it. You need not agree with the bastards, if you'll excuse the expression, with his logic or approach or rationale but at least you understand why he did it. It used to be simply a problem for you, and this in the larger context needs to be looked at by an analysis of the information.

     The second is that I don't think reconciliation is really a task or a charge that we have taken upon ourselves, or even put upon us in terms of the Act. It's a process which we need to investigate, explain, which will set a basis for reconciliation. And reconciliation again is not love and harmony. Love and harmony are words and expressions in pop songs and it may be a missionary vision, a vision of an ideological or religious frame of mind, but love and harmony are simply not part of all-day life universally speaking. So what we need to develop is the capacity to live with each other and then I think, and this has been my input and will continue to be my input, to focus more on the empowerment of individuals, of communities, of the nation, but empowerment meaning them taking their fate into their own hands, moving up, get active, do their thing. So in a sense while remembering the past get involved in the future and don't make a living on the past, don't wait for others to build your future for you, don't wait for others to set the record straight for you. There is very limited capacity with the government. No-one else can restore your dignity. It can acknowledge a frame within which you can assume your dignity again.

POM     In that sense you are trying to free victims of their sense of victimhood and give them back their sense of self?

WM     Yes. To me the sense of self is restoring their dignity but to a lot of people, especially in the liberal tradition, the restoration of dignity is simply the acknowledgement, the comforting, the repairing, the living with, whereas I don't believe that that would really restore it. In the end only a victim having, in his perception, been stripped of his dignity can reassume it. It's inherent in him. No-one can grant you dignity or take away your dignity. You can offend it, you can hurt it, you can maim it or whatever but it can only be restored by the individual self taking his fate in his own hands.

POM     Where does reparation enter into this?

WM     Reparation is very limited. That needs to be attended to, surely to the extent that it can be made but I think reparation will be largely symbolic when it comes to the nation and communities. I don't believe, and I'm not a member of the Reparations Committee so I'm not talking policy I'm talking a position, I don't believe there is the capacity to deal with remuneration of individuals for losses of the past. I don't know on what basis one can look at an acceptable objective or even scientific base for such reparations so we need to look at the logical. One can also look immediately at directing victims to existing services. One could recommend additional services generally because of a need in society but I think the idea of making good in monetary terms losses of the past should really be shelved. I don't think a government can do it effectively. I don't think it can do it with credibility for the process. I cannot see how they are going to distinguish in terms of numbers between individuals. Can you take a workman's compensation approach? If you've lost a finger it's so much, if it's two fingers it's one and a half times that amount, if it's three - can we in terms of human suffering really look at such an almost logistical, mathematical approach to rehabilitation and reparation? I would argue, no.

POM     How about perpetrators? I sense among many black people who before were either apathetic or forgiving, a sense of rising anger that it would appear that so many self-confessed cold-blooded killers are going to make their applications for amnesty, more or less look at their watch and say - I've made my application, I've told the truth, I'm out of here, I get my amnesty, I did it for a political objective and I'm going to walk.

WM     I'm not sure that that is really a rising phenomenon in terms of numbers but I think it is rising in terms of intensity with those that hold that position from the beginning. I haven't really detected a switch in attitude. I think that's also linked to the question of an expectation of reparations without any delivery on that. Amnesty is and will now increasingly be granted. The second problem is that it relates only to applicants from the old order and we haven't really had applicants from the liberation movements in terms of gross human rights violations perpetrated against old order victims. We are told that more are coming in and there is still the return date only at May 10th, so there is no focus on that. At the same time there is no real focus on victims within the old order, the land mines, or Wimpy bombings or whatever, soldiers, policemen having been killed in the conflict and shot. There is no focus on that. I think another reason also is that the process does not allow - I referred for instance to policemen and military staff, especially those serving their time as the call-ups, the young guys for their military service, conscription - some of them were killed in combat, so to speak, or in combat situations whether it was ambush or whatever in the townships and so on with policemen. There is no focus on that.

     At the same time there is a major focus on gross human rights violations perpetrated against individuals and especially youngsters in the movement, UDF, youth organisations, but what has not come out is that very many of them, if not most of them were in a sense both perpetrator and victim. They were busy with programmes, they were detained not because people wanted to detain an individual but because of their activity, some of their activities, and this has emerged but the process does not allow for a further investigation of that. A person would come and make a statement claiming to be a victim of torture but what is not disclosed is that that same person necklaced someone else. So that dual role, there is not really yet, partly because of that, a real potential to re-frame, to look at the conflict with perpetrators on all sides and victims on all sides. The numbers clearly, I'm not disputing the numbers game in terms of who suffered and how many were involved as victims or as perpetrators, but the focus is on the old order and the focus is not on the conflict as the Act prescribes.

     It's partly also due to where we come from. We come from different angles in the commission and the seventeen commissioners arrive from really thirty-four different origins and there is no such thing as objectivity. Objectivity is also culturally coloured. We look at the composition of our staff, I think we've forgotten that apartheid is not on trial, apartheid has been condemned and executed so to speak. Maybe not at the practise of the social but certainly internationally, universally that's done with. We don't have a function to deal with apartheid as a system any more. We have a function to deal with the conflict, the context of the conflict, the victims and perpetrators, their motives and perspectives, and then recommendations to the government, apart from findings also, as to what can and should be done and I would say more systemic, more non-legal, non-prescriptive as to recognise potentially such recurrences again, not of apartheid but of ideological mobilisation, of confining the space instead of creating space for the nation and individuals again. Can we see the amber lights flickering if such period would be recurring? What can we do really to look at the nation as coping with itself outside ideological mobilisation? That's the kind of recommendations we need to get to. I've gone way beyond your question but I'm trying to share a little of my thinking.

POM     On the three levels that the commission was dealing with, truth, justice and reconciliation, where do you think it has made the most progress and where has it made the least progress and is there often a conflict between truth and justice?

WM     Your question to me in terms of my thinking is not a valid one. I don't take a singular view or singular value system's view of truth or of justice or of reconciliation. Let me just use an example: reconciliation indeed is the offender going to the offended saying, I beg your pardon, I beg your forgiveness, this is what I did, and the offended forgiving and then being reconciled, really living in Christian harmony, loving each other as brethren and moving forward. Surely that's reconciliation, but that's not reconciliation to me in terms of our mandate and we have no mandate to reconcile individual victim offenders. I don't think we have a mandate to reconcile within that paradigm sections of the community because they were not so divided. It's a myth to say that the white offender needs to beg the forgiveness of the black victim. It's more complicated than that. I would discuss that in terms of the conflict.

     So really how do I approach that? I define reconciliation in that context simply as getting this society to cope with itself and their components whether communities or individuals to develop the capacity to live, co-exist with the other. To me that's the basis for reconciliation, and where people would develop and create and make their own future. What is truth? Truth by which perspective? I have used before the example of two individuals observing a house, one from the north elevation, one from the south, or worse, from the west, a side elevation. Do they get them together and decide on the truth as to that house, what it looks like, what it's about? There's no chance if they have different perspectives. So truth to me is multi-truths, multi-dimensional, it's the composite, not moving into a new singular because you don't have one dimensional answers to things, it's always multi-dimensional so truth to me is getting both observers and walk them round the house and round and round and round the house so they can see also the other's perspective and maybe more and so broaden their perspective, increase their exposure to as much information as possible with a view of getting in the shoes of others, seeing their perspectives. To me if that's truth, multi-dimensional, in that sense every angle, every view of the house and every description of that house from whatever elevation is true but not so true as to render untrue other elevations or perspectives. To me that's a better definition of truth when we talk society and I can continue on this basis.

POM     Let me ask you something more personal. One, since you have joined the commission what have been the most difficult decisions that you have had to face? Two, what has touched you the most? Three, what has affronted you the most? And four, what most troubles you about the process given that I think it has only 169 more days to run and there are something like over 5000 applications for amnesty still to process?

WM     I'm not trained any more to remember your questions in their natural order but let's say the first: what are the most difficult decisions?  think it was simply making it in terms of being available for the TRC. I haven't had decisions within the process that I have found to be difficult decisions in terms of changing my earlier views or approaches. So the only really difficult one was making myself available for nomination.

POM     The second one was what has most touched you?

WM     What has most touched me. I think what has most touched me is in victim hearings where the victim would say. "I have now told my story", especially at hearings, "I have now told my story, this is the end of my healing." Just that kind of statement is the most touching. It's really the person saying OK, this is now the end of my being a victim, now I am a restored individual again, thank you very much this is the end of the road for me in terms of my healing, my recuperation. I have heard that on more than one occasion from victims on all sides, white Afrikaans women, black women, in different vernaculars and customs or languages. That's the most touching.

POM     What has most affronted you?

WM     What most affronts me still continually is arrogance within the commission about final answers, good values, end of the road positions, dogmatism, dogmatic or absolute stances.

POM     That's within the commission itself?

WM     That's within the commission itself. The most difficult really is coping with these different cultures. The commission is a body of 17 individuals and will be that throughout the process, but the different management styles and the conflict emerging from that and to a large extent also what often is perceived, I think by all of us, of the others, because of our different backgrounds, the almost manipulation often of agendas and of process in order to achieve own ends, the impossibility, the agony of the process now. I pleaded for that in the beginning that we spend time together to develop a shared understanding of what we need to develop a shared perspective of the goals and especially a shared perspective of our expectations of the outcome of the process and the legacy that the Truth Commission would want in terms of its statute to leave to the nation. We have never developed such a vision for the TRC so we have different vision statements. Everybody has still a different understanding and we all move through the process aiming at our individual goals and ends. That is the most tiresome, frustrating, hurting, paining, suffering experience that I've ever had. I don't think I've ever had, not even within the old National Party caucus, such tension and agony experienced in my inner self, in terms of the capacity to work with 16, maybe a few less agendas, and some of them linking up and manipulating again. May I also say that includes in terms of my management style which is systems and on occasions systemic but systems approach, there is no such management style there, it's ad hoc, there's often a disregard for procedures, it's almost decree or simply act and take the consequences. I have a difficulty with that. I'm not referring to the Arch, I'm referring to the commissioners.

POM     Do you make a distinction, as the ANC has tried and met with members of the commission last Friday, between their war as being just war and must be seen in a different context from the - ?

WM     I think just war arguments are very, very dangerous. It provides a cloak behind which legitimate self-interest arguments are not discussed. I said earlier and I repeat, I'm against dogmatic stances on anything. Taking a position on just war will not prevent that recurring. People act on the basis of their self-interest. Nobody sat down and devised apartheid on the basis of moral positions. Nobody sat down and started to think about the struggle and liberation struggle, especially MK, on the basis of the moral demands. That's rationalisation, it's a waste of time, it's extremely dangerous and in any event it moves away from people taking personal responsibility for their actions. I think every individual is accountable. I would not judge whether a thing is right or wrong.

     Again, from my example of the house, you have the right/wrong, black/white positions. They never work in society. Society is living, right/wrong is dead or it is post-life. It's never worked, it will never work. It's judgmental, it does not contribute to co-existence or living with each other. And again, to try and put a moral frame to it, when people ask me, but how can you justify certain of the things done in the name of the struggle? I don't want to, I have no need to justify it. I have often said when people refer to bombs in Wimpy bars among civilians, I am not prepared to even point a finger at that individual from a moral perspective. Having been in his position, maybe with his perspective, his agony, his whatever, I might have done the same. I might have done it earlier. I have often said in the past that were blacks white the liberation would have been effected way back in terms of my limited capacity to tolerate. That's not taking a moral position or justifying it, it's simply saying I'm not taking a position because I don't know what I would have done.

     But similarly we are in the position of whoever was in government at the time they perceived themselves, if I had perceived myself to be busy really with a reformation process aimed at total inclusion through negotiation and talks to others, then I would have employed extraordinary measures to combat whatever I perceived as an effort to destabilise or to break down the state especially against the background of the holy war rhetoric which we had in all of the camps, of the forces of light having to destroy, eliminate the forces of darkness. You had it from both sides. I would rather listen and hear and understand the frame, try to do something to see the flickering amber lights again when such things may recur and see what we can do to stop it or to break out of whatever new spirals may develop, than sitting in moral judgement.

POM     OK, I know you've got to run.

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.