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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

31 Jul 1997: Malan, Wynand

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POM     When I talked to you the last time, that was in March, you clearly had mixed feelings about the operation of the Truth Commission particularly with regard to the really internal divisions. What you talked about was that what it lacked was (a) a vision and (b) that it had not yet addressed its central task which was to put the conflict in context. Has it gone any further or made any progress in the last several months in moving towards either of those objectives?

WM     Let me say there has been some movement, firstly to the extent that at commission meetings now, we had two of them before and the last we had two-day sessions where the one was really discussion amongst commissioners around topics which at least helped a lot to ease the tension although not yet towards a shared philosophy or an integrated philosophy or systemic philosophy, whichever way it would develop, but that has been an advance. In terms of the understanding and administration of our task I think that is still limited. There is more of the feeling with some of the commissioners that we need to bring closure to a chapter in some way but how that is understood is not clear yet and the rhetoric is coming through. Yes, there have been advances on that side. As far as the administration and programme is concerned, in other words, broadly speaking, mandate, it's still a major dilemma we have on the outer side as from today we have four months really within which to complete our work.

     Still hearings are being arranged, institutional hearings, a new one added recently which is the corporate and business sector for which a date is not yet fixed but I think the decision has been taken in principle, or if not in principle it's imminent to be taken, that a specific date will be fixed, that we will have such hearings. The frame has recently developed and a press statement was put out yesterday which you would have seen in the press or could find in the press as to the purpose of these hearings. That was a committee really of the commission that developed that. It wasn't endorsed by the commission but it's out, it's simply the way we're functioning. Fortunately with some input which I also had it shifted to the businesses guilty in terms of apartheid and the socio-economic situation more to business and indeed gross human rights violations but adding the dimension of unions, the role of both sides in the conflict, to what extent were these, call it shins of the sector, aware of their actions leading to gross violations, people suffering gross violations.

     So that is coming through but the point I'm trying to make is we are still continuing without really a frame within which to assess, evaluate our work. I'm getting very worried because of the short time and I think we're all of us now pretty clear in our minds that the report will not be the ideal report simply for time reasons. If I say time reasons not in terms of the original time frame but in terms of the way we've been approaching it but we're bound on not extending the lifetime, so finishing our work by December and then writing the report. At the same time the report writing has already commenced. We got involved in what is called the Final Report Committee, again because I think my understanding initially was that, I'm talking now about four months ago when it was felt that we must now write the report, we had nothing in writing at that stage, we had very little of the information and nothing on data base. We have delayed some of the writing, others we've amended the methodology.

POM     How is the writing itself done? Who does it?

WM     The idea was that this committee, of which I wasn't a member and which I wasn't part of initially, would simply appoint people to write certain chapters. It was kind of a table of contents agreed upon.

POM     The Commission of Seventeen?

WM     No, no, specific people to write, not necessarily commissions, most of them not.

POM     But was it a committee drawn from the commission?

WM     Yes, the committee was drawn from the commission.

POM     Then that committee said certain people would draft certain chapters?

WM     Well they would have had the power to do it.

POM     And these people wouldn't necessarily be commissioners would they?

WM     No, the contrary was true. One or two might have been depending on their knowledge of the subject, which I again thought was the wrong way. If you have specific knowledge of a subject, especially relating to the human rights violations, you come in with baggage in a sense and then you're not acting as a commissioner but as a person with a specific agenda or mission or understanding and you're bound again to write whatever you write within the frame of your personal understanding and once that's on the table that determines the frame again. So we've switched most of it around, which is where these discussions, topical discussions, came from where we would discuss and make inputs. For instance, if you talk about historical context a chapter was done, the historical context was written without knowledge of the commission and then the fact that it was being done, just a draft, that's always how it's presented, we thought we had to do something because we have so little time. The draft is presented, the draft satisfied my way of thinking but that immediately made me worried because there aren't all the perspectives, which issue I raised and to which other members then came to the table and said that's not the understanding of the historical context, it's not their perspective. So we've decided that we will discuss that in commission but again it went along with the proposal and it's always the way. A date was agreed and people were invited and mainly journalists following the procedures, the process, some historians. I'm not sure whether it's representative, I haven't had feedback. This was a recent, it was in fact Tuesday. When was the 29th? Yesterday?

POM     Yesterday, yes.

WM     That this took place. I didn't ask about any feedback. I haven't heard anything about how it went, but the invitation was to journalists reporting on the Truth commission. Again my understanding is if it's historical context those are the last people that you want to frame the context for you.

POM     The journalists were going to frame - ?

WM     Well they, a large number, the idea is always input and the idea is always go outside for the input but we never get the commissioners to talk and share their understanding really. It's always input from outside, perspectives from outside, but we don't get the opportunity to share our various perspectives. I'm being harsh and maybe I'm even over-stating the situation.

POM     How can you evaluate the perspectives of the people who were giving input from the outside if you find it difficult to do it for yourselves?

WM     Well the argument is they were following the procedures. To an extent they heard more of the stories than commissioners themselves because commissioners sat on different panels. Then again, OK the journalists probably attended many more stories, heard many more stories, but my understanding is that's not the historical context of the commission and its mandate, it's not how you approach it. It's an analysis and therefore more historical or socio-historical perspective. The initial input on that first draft came from a specific centre which again is limited to one segment and mainly an old order perspective. As I say, it satisfied me because this was my perspective. It's more or less how I understood it, then I knew there's something wrong.

POM     These are just two quotes and I want to get to the relationship of the commission, to Mr de Klerk and the National Party withdrawing its co-operation for the moment at least, but these are two statements of his:

     "The people who structured apartheid and put it on the books were not evil people. Apartheid was in its idealistic form a plan to make all the people of South Africa free. The Afrikaner fought the first anti-colonial war in modern history in Africa against Great Britain so Afrikaners have a deep understanding of the need of the people to be free."

     "We would lead the rural homelands to independence just as the colonial powers to the north had done. The goal was to bring justice to all by transforming South Africa into something like Europe, national states working together in respect of common interests."

WM     Well I would put a different emphasis on it. The frame I will accept but the emphasis is: indeed we fought a war of liberation against the empire, more than one. The constitution of 1910 secured a continuation in a sense with some inroads in terms of the concept of volk, in terms of voters' role, so it wasn't really exclusive to the nation/state as perceived by Afrikaners, and leave for the moment the English speaking South Africans with an extension. You had various kinds of philosophies as to how to describe them and how to justify their participation within the volk concept, nation concept, and the racial basis, the exclusion. At the same time all through there was a clear awareness of ethnic groups living, existing, and in a sense in conflict, not at peace with each other in South Africa historically. It's their perspective, it's also mine, or it was mine, and to a large extent still is in terms of the historical, but that's again assuming part of baggage, I'm not putting this as gospel, I'm putting it as an understanding.

     Then what happened was with uhuru. You see it was never really a problem despite the fact that from 1947 onwards and in the United Nations we had the attacks because all the colonial powers were still exercising all the control in Africa but especially since 1957 with Ghanaian independence, the crucial moment the winds of change speech of Macmillan in 1960 and the referendum stage. One had some fore-shadowing from Verwoerd already as to the idea of this independence and freedom and each nation in its own right and it's own territory. Then in 1961 when he gave formal content to the goal but he prefaced, I am now referring to De Klerk's slant, he prefaced it with a statement saying that there is no chance whatsoever that we can continue under the present system which is clear domination and discrimination, we must rid ourselves of both domination and discrimination. The only way we can do it is to move into a nation set up in southern Africa equating it more or less to the European nation/state concept of the time.

     Well you had the European community developments already, Schuman and others, but that was not part of the public knowledge. You had a moving closer, united Europe developments which started way back in the fifties. So the idea was in the same way, and this is how Verwoerd put it in many of his speeches, that once we have this policy, we have each nation demarcated in a specific area, then people would identify with their state, they would exercise their political rights but they would at the same time be free to move in other states in this community of nations, like the British commonwealth, this commonwealth of South African states, but like a Frenchman living in Britain, working in Britain, would still be a Frenchman, he wouldn't have political rights in the UK. Similarly here white South Africans in what is then white South Africa, they work and live in one of the homelands but he wouldn't have political rights and vice versa. That was the philosophy.

     Now for De Klerk to say the purpose was, or the goal was the freedom of the other nations, I don't share that perspective. That was simply the means of securing our own national independence as Afrikaners with what other, call it then whites, and that was in a sense the paradox and dichotomy in policy. The emphasis was not on liberating blacks but preserving our own national or nation control.

POM     So it was a contrivance to ensure the independence of Afrikaners.

WM     And clearly they were in a minority. If you say nationalism, let me call it a nation. And the English speaking community wasn't really a threat both in terms of numbers and in terms of a lot of people who had already politically identified with the Afrikaner. Politics showed at the time the division between United Party and National Party was not really an English/Afrikaans split but when the Progressive Party moved out in 1960 and the limited support that they got with only one representative being elected, I mean the Progressives at that stage with the exception of probably Steytler were all seen as a kind of out and out liberal and call it human rights, dogmatic Englishmen not associating with the Afrikaner nation, the rest of South Africans but the Progs weren't South African, they were kind of spokespersons for the communists, doing their dirty job for them. That was what developed then.

POM     Would you say that most Afrikaners growing up or of that generation saw apartheid in this kind of 'idealistic' sense?

WM     Yes I have no doubt. That was certainly my perspective. I was at school pre-Verwoerd, the years of Strydom. What bugged me was the discrimination. It's been brought back to me often these days when I meet people who, again after very many years say to me, oh we've been following you all through, seeing you now after thirty years - we saw you thirty years ago, I remember in Standard 7 and in that debate you took a position in the debate on blacks not being able to buy white liquor, blacks not being allowed to brew their own beer, that you took issue with discrimination at that level. I wasn't really aware of it but it didn't make sense with me, neither did it within the home of my parents. But the grand scheme of our liberation, referring to De Klerk, that was the focus, that was the goal. Our freedom, our continued freedom, our continued exercising the control as a majority of our own fate that was in the forefront. Putting that within a frame of fairness, justice, inequality, everything, what De Klerk says that the independence of the ethnic nations became a means to achieving our own continued expression of ourselves as a nation. So the factual, the picture of De Klerk I will endorse but the motive I put a different slant on.

POM     So again even within your own households there was a differentiation between the design of grand apartheid on the one hand and what came to be called petty apartheid on the other.

WM     Couldn't understand, I am saying some of it. When you talk petty apartheid where is the distinction? To that extent group areas became part of the grand apartheid design even in our home. The concept, although I came to challenge that also quite early in my life, it just didn't make sense that they were entitled to live in my backyard but not next door. Although I could rationalise this to an extent it didn't bug me as much as saying blacks may not drink brandy or buy it from a store, even the separate queues and stuff like that. I could understand some of it in terms of a level of development, the huge socio-economic gap traditional, this is first world, I could understand it, but it didn't make sense within the grand design. But I think I need also to say that within my home blacks were never the enemy or the threat, the English always were. My war, my family, I would even say my community's war, let me not talk on behalf of the nation, was with the English and the English speaking South Africans and through them PFP and so on became the personification of the old empire. It was a continuation of this. This is one of the debates as to whether we should have had a Truth Commission in 1902 and reparations in 1902, people are arguing that, but in a sense there were reparations in 1902. The problem was you had to go and fetch it in England.

POM     Just an addendum on that is that there was in the Irish nationalist movement at the time, there was a committee set up called the Irish/Transvaal Committee headed by John McBride who fought at Ladysmith and all the other battles and he and everyone in Ireland were on the side of the Boers because they were fighting the English -

WM     The Englishmen came to fight.

POM     - for their independence and his son was Sean McBride who became the UN Administrator for what's now Namibia, and John McBride was executed in 1916 in Ireland in the uprising there. Do you think as apartheid became an internationalised issue say from the mid seventies certainly onwards with -

WM     Can I interrupt you because I just want to refer to the De Klerk frame? You see maybe this is the distinction that what motivated the Afrikaner was its national identity, not an international human rights moral position. Now we had to cast it in such a frame that it achieved our aims of national identity, continued national identity and at the same time satisfy the demands for justice for all on a human rights basis, acknowledging the individual, no discrimination, no domination, this kind of democracy language that emerged in the same way as all powers withdrew and left constitutions which didn't really carry the light of day afterwards. But we wanted to achieve the same. In the same way as the UK withdrew from Zambia with a beautiful constitution saying end of colonialism, democracy, but no democracy in the European or UK frame. Their aim was withdrawal, their aim was not democracy. They weren't motivated by democracy, it was pressure and in the same way De Klerk is using the rhetoric that we used all through in our answering the critics, but it wasn't the motivation, it was the means.

POM     Do you think, I was going to ask you, that from the mid seventies on when apartheid became an international issue and then more so in the eighties with the sanctions and boycotts and campaigns to release Mandela, do you think that the perspective of the Afrikaner, having their experience in the Anglo/Boer wars, was one of the dynamics that has never been properly understood and appreciated and how the memories of that and the history of that and the legacy of that have had a lot to do with the motivation of Afrikaners?

WM     No I don't buy that either. De Klerk and the National Party argues that all through but that's part of an ideological argument. It's certainly true in terms of a carrying through of the same mind-set inclusive of content, which is the liberation, but whether it's mind-set or value is debatable. But especially since the seventies and maybe the foreshadowing came in the sixties already with the first changes, maybe even before that, the Sabotage Act, Terrorism Act and then detention without trial, although for a limited period on the books, and the scrapping of the legislation, the re-introduction of it, and then this degeneration of democratic values into security values which I think is also under threat, a kind of a regression in a paradigm where a system can't do it, go for the power. That culminated under PW Botha where decree first carried the day, enacted afterwards in instances, but then simply license to the security, I'm talking about my perspective, it's not coming out in the Truth Commission's activities simply because they refuse to take on PW. PW is not in the frame and I don't know why that is, I have my suspicions but let me not put that on record.

POM     Put them off the record if you want.

WM     I'll speak to you not on tape, well I may, I'll decide still. The difficulty is again from where we come there is an inability which I can understand, especially those that come from the struggle side within the commission, to distinguish between phases in the degeneration then of politics under different individuals who had their own mark on the culture of politics and there's a major difference between Verwoerd who was the real ideologue and Vorster who was much more pragmatic, much more anti-British and then again Vorster to PW Botha. Vorster was still in a sense the guy who with exception went against rule of law, being a jurist but believing that the state had to defend itself in severe situations and therefore you could digress, kind of - hell I'm at a loss for the English - in a situation of, what do you say when you suspend the rule of law?

POM     Emergency.

WM     Emergency situation. The state not only had the right but the duty in order to maintain the values, to make use of non-democratic values, kind of a philosophy which whether it's a good philosophy or not it's very practical and very real.

POM     Even the present constitution allows -

WM     Just with more checks but the principle - that was Vorster's position. But with PW Botha with no legal background, no sense for a rule of law approach, the power man especially with his exposure to the defence force and his involvement in the defence force and the cross-border raids and securing the safety of South Africans, that kind of argument, had no feel whatsoever for rule of law or justice as such. He lived by power. To him those were equated. I can defend myself, anything goes. Not using the words but certainly practising it and that shift is not even accepted, it's not analysed, it's not researched, it's not investigated and everything from 1960 through 1994, which is the term of our mandate, in some way a majority of the commission and especially its office bearers want to pin on someone and the person who is the representative or the personification of that is the present leader of the National Party and the last President and he's still in office, which is De Klerk.

     But no democracy really functions on a basis of not a change in government when you indeed have a change of government even within the same party. If you have a new leader you have a new government. Major was not the same government as Thatcher, with no stretch of the imagination can you argue that although he moved fairly close to her but I can use better examples than that. That's not understood within the commission, it's not even given any credence within the commission even to probe that scenario and nothing is being done and, as I said, PW Botha has refused to answer the questions we put to him. His sort of autobiography, which galley proof I understand was given to our research department, that's his presentation to the commission but he's not answering the questions, he still takes a line which is the total onslaught, total counter - whatever it is.

POM     Yes I know what you are saying.

WM     That's still the frame. He sticks to it and he still believes it but he denies, for instance, on television that he has ever given instructions for so-and-so to be eliminated. I accept that but at least by not interfering he allowed elimination of people even by name, the names not necessarily known to him, but the fact that it happened I do not accept that he had no knowledge of that or at least not a major suspicion of that and saying to himself - even if I had knowledge, these guys were the professionals. To quote him again - they know what they are doing, they are responsible for our safety and security, I don't interfere. Who the hell has any right to interfere if I as President don't even do it? De Klerk did not take that head on, I mean nobody did, but it was again mainly because of the nature of the politics. Botha was the dictator, he was the Emperor for all practical purposes. If you would seriously take him on, especially as a member of cabinet, you would not stay in the cabinet, you wouldn't be there the next day.

     So I argued that De Klerk, let's not call it part of his philosophy but part of his tactics or strategy, was to survive in order to get that seat so that he could have his own imprint on history and make his own mark. Not that he foresaw at the time what eventuated, that again I don't believe because he did think in the original apartheid or group sense, as he said, that was still his vision of the future, maybe not that structure but still the frame, the philosophy. So De Klerk, what I really wanted to say, I'm not sure, as a matter of fact I'm pretty close to sure, that De Klerk's tactics or strategy of not taking on PW Botha had more of a positive effect although a lot of people died as a result of it that might not have died, but PW would still have been in power so his tactics or strategy to get to the top seat worked for him and there is no way that I can ever argue that my leaving the National Party and the rebellion in the sense against PW Botha, it might have been more moral at the time from a human rights perspective but in terms of the historical perspective it was the wrong option had De Klerk exercised it. That's where I'm more of a utilitarian than a dogmatic human rights philosopher.

     You started on the wrong side with putting the question on De Klerk's perspective because although I saw him as my arch-enemy in the party in terms of the ideology of apartheid which is the structure of nations, the group think, he was in a sense one of the few allies in terms of the anti-security rule but because he never spoke out in public, he would have lost office, he is not perceived generally, at least within the commission, to have been what I have no doubt that he indeed is and was. This is part of the dilemma that for anyone to get me to believe that De Klerk supported the security rule and the elimination of individuals they will have to acquit themselves of a major burden of proof which I don't see. I simply don't believe it. Not that I like De Klerk, I've never been friends with him. Friendly with him but always in an opposition frame.

POM     So do you think he has a legitimate gripe with the TRC in the manner in which the submission was handled?

WM     I have no doubt that his gripe is legitimate, I have no doubt because I raised this within the commission, I even put out a public statement not to endorse his gripe which I conceded in the statement but to get him to continue to participate, not make the distance and my argument was simply, yes the future society is about fair process, due process, but the Truth Commission is about getting perspectives of the past, in other words that multiple truth approach and at the same time some modus of co-existence in future which could best be served by understanding the past and for them to withdraw is a no-no. Secondly, if we really want to find out who indeed was responsible for the elimination of people, who sanctioned it or who provided the shield under which this happened, then it would serve no purpose to withdraw and called on them to more actively get involved in finding out how the hell was it possible that people could have done this with our eyes not seeing it. Why could we never see the source of this shield for the security rule and the elimination and this total disaster that really eventuated from especially the mid-eighties onwards?

     Let me just say, because that was your question, whether he has a gripe: yes, also because the information originally tendered, and this was an approach from the NP and the ANC that they wanted to give us their perspective of the conflict which we accepted, they even suggested in the beginning that they would do a joint submission to us which would have meant that they would have found a common understanding of the past. We declined that, we said give us your individual perspectives, but it was tendered from their side, there was never a subpoena. They made the submission on an understanding of the conflict. We asked certain questions which were intended in terms of our decision in the commission to better understand the conflict. It's gathering of information. That was the line we took with all the parties that in the commission again, as it functions or does not function, different groups of commissioners were appointed to have the different tasks for the different parties without co-ordinating the philosophy and the people assigned to the different parties left more aggressive, anti-Nat people preparing and questioning the ANC.

     We can again look at the different baggage we carry. Not the ANC, the National Party, and the style was totally different. All the others were questioned in order to get more information. With De Klerk right up front it was an accusation of his active participation in decisions to eliminate people, it was a cross-examination like you would find in a criminal case in a lower court, it was very badly handled and if you talk about due process, they dumped scores of documents, a big pile, before him and they simply referred him to page so-and-so quoting three words and asking an explanation as to what that meant without allowing him to read the context and in some of his answers he went into the trap because he wanted to co-operate although he complained about the line of questioning. Then what really put him out was in a press conference the chairperson and the deputy chair in some way or another had remarks to the extent that, or which came very close to say it softly, that De Klerk is a liar and we believe he was part of this and he's guilty.

POM     He should be more forthcoming, yes.

WM     Well they didn't say that, they said he was indeed part - we don't believe him, he lies, but he lies against the background of the questioning which was the accusation or the supposition put to him that he indeed sanctioned the elimination of activists and against that background in the press conference Tutu is saying, "I don't believe it", although he did sort of qualify himself right at the end of the conference and said maybe he didn't know, maybe he didn't know. But that was the only softening of it and then talking of a policy designed to kill which again in the same press conference was attributed by the media, and I think reasonably by all, that he was saying De Klerk was part of that policy although in terms of his exact wording he didn't say that but he didn't say who was responsible for the policy so by extension that was the clear understanding. And then they came with the wrong demands, for Tutu to apologise unconditionally, for Boraine to resign and for Goosen never to be used again in any dealings with the National Party, which didn't make sense.

     But again we made the mistake, and I am co-responsible for that, by saying to them no we can't accede to your demands, we are here, please come and talk to us, we've asked you before. But we didn't give an indication that we were really prepared to try and sort out the differences. That was done in a separate press statement again, but the commission's letter that went to the NP was a blunt refusal and saying we are here today and the next day, we would be pleased for a delegation of yours to meet us, which the attorneys on the same day they received the letter declined saying it's an outright rejection of our demands. So we could have phrased it differently. We will have to see what develops. I think the court case will take its course. I can't see them succeeding in terms of their specific prayers in their application but at the same time I cannot see a court not reflecting at least negatively on the way we conducted ourselves both in the questioning and - .

POM     It impedes, the fact that it's happened impedes your work for its duration if they don't -

WM     Not really, I don't think so. We don't have time, we really didn't plan, we really didn't conceptualise despite numerous requests from my side as to what we wanted to achieve. How do we interpret our mandate? We're now trying to interpret our mandate, we didn't do it up front. We hit the ground running and everybody was doing everything or anything and now looking back at our activities we try to give substance to our mandate as we understood it which I guess is fair under the circumstances. We cannot idealise now about mandate, we have to look at what we did that would be an understanding of our mandate but it wasn't a shared understanding at any stage, simply activities ad hoc.

POM     Do you think that the TRC has improved race relations in the country or made them worse?

WM     No, but it's not the TRC, it's the subject, subject matter. Let me put it the other way round, we are further away from reconciliation but it's a necessary further away, however you define reconciliation and I'm not trying to define this religiously as you know. No, there's more stress, there's more aversion and people saying is this really necessary and why do you go to this extent, when does the bloody thing finish? And the reliving of the victimisation by victims is bringing to the fore again the negative feelings. Now we're in a worse state than we were pre-TRC but in a sense I argue this to be a necessity under the circumstances, not generally, not advancing the argument for TRCs after any conflict anywhere in the world. As a matter of fact I would certainly have it differently in Burundi or wherever if there's ever to be a Truth Commission, and I wouldn't go The Hague way in terms of the International Court either. I would use some of what we've had but not all of it and certainly not in terms of methodology and of framing a programme for a Truth Commission. No it's worse but that's not the test, the test is really what does the government do post-TRC and to have it in the open is in a sense good and the awareness and the shock, the horror with most of the white constituents here, we can't believe this. They still don't believe it although they accept it, there's a kind of paradox within - how was it possible? They just can't believe it.

POM     I talked to Joe Seremane this morning and I've been interviewing him for a number of years.

WM     SACC?

POM     Yes, then he was with the PAC and he was on Robben Island with Mandela and then he was jailed and tortured in Maritzburg from 1976 to 1978. One of the things that he was complaining about, he was talking about inequality in the terms of that white policemen have come forward or security people have come forward and said this is what I did, I put a stick of dynamite and tied a person up and blew him up and I had a couple of beers when I watched him being blown up or I did this or I did that, they described what they did to people, whereas with the ANC their presentation was yes there were abuses and we committed violations of human rights and there were some abuses but God knows there were so many infiltrators around us that some of these just happened, and that's it. There's no filling in, there's no picture created of what happened, like when he talks about the affidavits of the two boys who saw his brother saying that his best friends couldn't recognise him, he had been mutilated. Is there that - ?

WM     I think what he says is correct, I agree with that, but that's not within the party, it's not to be pinned on the ANC or the NP because the NP at the same time did not  advance specific human rights violations but that's in the division within a system which is perceived a democracy where you have a level of the politicians deciding and the bureaucracy implementing, which isn't understood on the ANC side and largely within the commission that there is  - I mean a politician does not get involved in implementation. That's one of the principles. You're not an administrator in the direct sense of delivery, you set the frame, you set the policies and it's for the departments to implement and render services. And the same goes for the security establishment. I mean politicians didn't go to the battlefield and give instructions so there was this separation but it couldn't have happened the way it did without some politicians knowing what happened and shielding some other politicians. The policemen coming to the fore and saying we did this and listing their atrocities, that's true, it's the white policemen. The ANC isn't coming because they don't believe it necessary. The police are doing it in order to get the amnesty, the white policemen especially because they fear prosecution. Some of them were on the verge of being prosecuted when they applied for amnesty.

     But in the ANC support base, the liberation community call it, there is no such fear that they will be prosecuted post-commission so they don't come to the fore and even those who were combatants in a sense approach us as victims. We have numerous statements of detention without trial, torture and that's where the statement ends but often in hearings when you start questioning people why were you detained, then they would say - I burnt someone. So then you find out they were involved in a necklacing. We even then found out that some of them were charged and found guilty but it's not in the original statement because they speak about the human rights violations. And our system is not such that we can pick it up because only a few can be referred for hearings, a very small percentage, and again the culture is to be victim friendly. Therefore you don't put them under cross-examination.

POM     So you'd have the case of somebody who would be detained, had been detained by the ANC, no, detained by -

WM     No, I'm talking now detained by the system.

POM     By the system, and then you would find out why they were detained was because they were involved in - ?

WM     You have to ask the wide questions. Then it leads to their involvement in some violent conflict and often, and some refuse to give you further information, but they still don't apply for amnesty. You get people who say, and boasting, I was chairperson of the youth movement, the Youth League in X or A, Y or Z region, we were being harassed by the police. We ask them why. Because we protected the community. How did you protect the community? No we advised them of their rights. You say to them, and what about all the black councillors or storekeepers whose businesses were burnt down? And there's a kind of response you can equate to a kind of internal combustion or what do you say, simply combustion of the house. Yes they know the house is burnt but they don't know how. Yes they know people were necklaced but they weren't involved, they don't know who did it. It was certainly not their programme. They don't even offer anything. That's the difficulty. When we talk about the ANC in exile we have a little more about that. We have a few statements, not too many, but we've taken great care to the credit of the others in terms of balancing the conflict and hearings where they did place those for hearings or some of them so the reflection on the ANC of torture, disappearances, that did come to the fore.

POM     Will the whole question of -

WM     But let me just say, even where those came to the fore, if we got information about the system, taking in the rights, those were investigated and Section 29 subpoenas and really having a go at finding out who did it and so on, a lot of information coming through amnesty applications. When it concerned the ANC we had very few subpoenas on ANC perpetrators of human rights violations. Even the question of Winnie is again in the air having announced that she would be subpoenaed, there are second thoughts, it's not decided yet. And no-one else in office, whether in MK or wherever, is really being subpoenaed at a level where it makes sense, like Generals have been, and Vlok being threatened, De Klerk being questioned. So you don't have that balance. This is also one of the gripes of the NP that there is no balance. The ANC is basically saying, look at our cause, the cause was just, the cause of the system was unjust and therefore you have to weigh the gross human rights violations within the context of causes. De Klerk says no, the judge of the causes that when it concerns gross human rights violations you have to weigh the one or the other, you can't distinguish specific incidents. Philosophically the underpinning can be there but when you judge an individual's actions look at the violation.

POM     You can't say that because I think I'm fighting a just war, whatever that is, therefore if I torture somebody it's different than somebody on the other side who is fighting an unjust war and they are torturing somebody.

WM     This is more or less the argument, you should see the violation within the context of the justness or unjustness. I don't look at that, to me it's not the just war and the unjust system or the other way round. To me it's one of, again being pragmatic, you look at, for instance, a bomb in a Wimpy Bar, do I really have to judge on that basis of morality? Can I make a positive moral judgement? But at the same time can I make a negative moral judgement? Would I not have done the same? I might have done it earlier were I that position with this little hope. Does that put it in the frame of morality? No, certainly only as far as I see it in terms of reality. And if we want to make any recommendations in the future let's look at what are the probable developments as opposed to what should be idealistic happening and then intervene at the level of probabilities, not of dogma.

POM     Will the truth or the extent of what happened in the townships in terms of necklacings and intimidations and the operations of street committees and their domination of local populations, will there ever be adequate disclosure of that or is the fact that people live in those communities, people who know the perpetrator of a necklacing, won't name that person because they have to go back and live beside them in that very same community? I had Joe Seremane today saying he's watching himself, that he's gone back to doing all the things he did in the struggle days: he varies his route home, he arranges his papers on his desk in a certain way and examines them in the morning to see whether there's anybody in the office. He's cautious, not paranoid, but cautious about what he's done.

WM     I don't think that will directly come to the fore. But, again, I've taken a different line to a large extent from of some of my fellow commissioners by lead questioning witnesses if they come to us as victims and it's clear from just a few that I've questioned, to me it's clear because they give answers like: we went to the stadium, there was a call. Where did the call come from? The youth, or a march or whatever. But why did you participate? When you get such a call you go, you don't ask questions, which is clearly the intimidation, the level of intimidation. Now that was what the system of politicians and bureaucrats focused on. That was their perspective. It was indeed true but that's part of the truth, it's not the whole truth. But we haven't focused on that, there is no investigation. The focus, the motivation was to uncover the criminal state activities and that's the majority of the commissions, that was the frame. The frame still is the criminal state not the human rights violations within the political conflict. Whether that will be the frame of the report remains to be seen. I would hope that it's not but this was certainly the frame of our activities.

     We very recently, because of the intervention of one of our statement takers, specifically acquired some information on the SDU's, the self defence units. We hoped, many of us hoped to have a hearing specifically related to that but we will not get there. Although this was mooted earlier the business sector came up with it again, criminal business as part of the criminal state. That again I managed in a sense to swing to say if you talk to the business sector you have to talk to unions too and the business sector is Business South Africa and Unions South Africa. And then again you have to look at the conflict because this is our demand. So that's come to the fore but we have a long road ahead of discussions and writing the report and we may have minority remarks if not minority reports. I can't see us in this limited time finding a consensus even on the majority of things. Though again the culture is not to come with minority positions, say, OK, that's the report and I'll put my signature to it. I'm not sure that I can do that, we will have to see where it leads to.

POM     But the culture is that there wouldn't be minority positions?

WM     That's never been the thinking. Nowhere have I ever seen, except I've done it once or twice to say I want it minuted that I'm against this. I never heard this from anyone else so when decisions fall, the style of meetings is really one which is more or less a consensus. So you talk a little, it's a formulation by the chair, and then people will say, well OK that's the sort of majority and you don't have to take a vote, you don't want to lose, you don't want to force a vote. That's the culture of most of them. But we need to see what happens with the report. I think there if people do take specific positions on issues you would have others coming aboard and some people may on some issues take fixed positions against the majority. So I do foresee in the report a little of that developing. I am sure it will be argued again that there shouldn't be minority positions, people must simply submit, that will be part of the argument, no doubt.

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.