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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

31 Jul 1997: Seremane, Joe

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POM     Tape 2 talking with Joe Seremane.  You say that many of your own leaders still look on things in the old way? It's the grudge?

JS     Yes I believe it hasn't healed, it won't go away overnight. The President maybe surpasses all of them and there are others who look like him but I feel it too with others in simple conversations that there is still much, much bitterness or anger, let me put it that way, but then as a wave, as a duty, it's easily shed or taken off like a cloak, it was a responsible thing. Others, it's like ingrained but they need to move, it is time to move. If they demonstrate it that's fine, it is human nature, otherwise the three of us as we sit here we can have a clash and we make peace but we will meet next year with one of us still saying, that day I didn't like it, it seems as though I can start this thing. So that I justify myself, convince you that you did me wrong and so it goes on and what more, more than 40 million people they all have to go through it and they won't go through it simultaneously in the same way, in the same degree.

POM     You're saying you could use the incident as an illustration?

JM     I was saying look at this young fellow who shot these AWB people, condemned, human rights groups, he shouldn't have shot helpless guys like that. But then he had witnessed already people who had been shot at. When I moved in, that day I came late, in Bop I saw a lady lying there, a domestic worker lady with the bag, pieces of bread fell on the pavement. They shot at her just for nothing. She was a struggling mother, collected bread to go and feed the starving children and these guys who are monsters shoot her for nothing. Who were they protecting that way? The story that they had gone to protect Mangope doesn't hold water. The police were armed, the soldiers were armed. Go to them, don't kill innocent people. And somebody could argue when you planted bombs why didn't you plant them at the camp, at the police station? Why go and plant them at schools? So it goes on. And again you still argue, I asked myself just recently, should we be checked? How cruel. My first reaction, how cruel. Does it make you a courageous soldier when you walk into a church and you find people kneeling down and their eyes closed and you mow them down in the name of the struggle? It's just a question that I posed to myself: was there no better way of doing, or a better scene where you could fight your enemy? It's anybody's guess. That young American girl, killed.

POM     Amy.

JS     Amy. Was there no better way? But then it goes again when a people reach a certain level, sink to a certain level, whether they are black or white, oppressor or oppressed, they do such things and we have to fight and resist getting to that level as much as possible. And that's again where the dignity concept comes in. You are not taught, ingrained, that you cannot have excess, it just does not fit in the whole pattern, the mindset of ubuntu. When you fight you fight a guy bravely, fight another soldier, use your spear, stab them, but you don't go out to abuse those who look you, and in my culture as far as I understand war was main, the chauvinistic war was the main and war should not be fought in villages. War should be fought out there, the men must go and meet each other like the French would go out on a duel fighting for a woman, go out in the forest there and will face each other, not blow each other in front of the family where some people will be hurt. So we have lost that. Modern times, I don't know, maybe it's modern times, we've devalued life so much that it is nothing. Life has become very cheap in the townships. You don't know why amongst ourselves we kill each other. Of course we will rationalise - socio-economic systems. My forebears didn't go molesting women and children because they were being tied to the wheels and walloped, but how bad it was. They had nowhere to go to, no publicity, no networking, they were walloped like absolute slaves but they never lost their human dignity and abused their own. And I think that we are worse off.

POM     Why do you think that is?

JS     I think it's the whole general thing universally where the norms or standards have changed to the extent of regarding human life as expedient. You can make profits at the expense of people, you can by hundreds of dollars you make a profit and (exploit) society and we go on, I can push blacks, I don't care what happens to the entire nation, population, I don't care as long as I am building my kingdom, my empire. Life is devalued. And when I get offended I destroy life under the pretext that I am defending myself, but I go to excesses. Those that deal with me do the same thing. There is just that general degeneration in terms of how to look at life.

POM     Just one or maybe two last questions, but they're combined. Do you believe De Klerk when he says that he had no knowledge of the hit squads that operated in the nineties, whether Vlakplaas or in KwaZulu/Natal or in the Eastern Cape or whatever, when he says, "I simply did not know"?

JS     I will quickly say it, no I don't think he didn't know. He knew. He may not have all the details because there were real mavericks some of these guys.

POM     But he knew?

JS     He knew. He knew. Those were their lines of defences. He couldn't have gone for so many years and heard that people are dying, otherwise their whole system was very inefficient when the left hand never knew what the right hand did. I don't want to believe that. Yes I will grant him that he didn't know all the details but he knew, he knew.

POM     So he's lying?

JS     Yes he's lying. I know that my people were necklacing people but I don't know who those people are maybe, but I know that was a tactic. I know it was plotted.

POM     The other side of that is, if there are senior members of government who were in fact informants, and there is adequate documentation that there was, what must be done?

JS     Well I think the disclosure must be there and people must decide whether they forgive them or not and the first punishment they can give them is to tell them to step down. They must go and start afresh so that people don't have mistrust. That's about the severest thing they can do.

POM     The very last question, and thank you for the time, I could always go on with you for hours. You were working in Ireland at one point in time?

JS     Yes that's right.

POM     Allan Boesak has come back and faces charges against him that went through a system of whatever the system was, of the Office of Economic Offences or whatever, it went through the Attorney General to look at whatever the charge sheet and decided to charge him with the crime, and essentially he has said that to charge me with crime is to charge the whole struggle with the crime, to charge all our liberation with the crime, that the people who were charging me with the crimes are white people and it's a charge against the whole struggle and yet white murderers are walking free every day, where is the justice here? Why should I go down? Maybe I had to take unorthodox methods to conceal money because in those days you never knew who was with you or who was against you. Now is he, in your view, making that kind of case for himself, so he is saying it is not I who have been charged with doing something wrong because if I were to be found guilty the whole struggle is found guilty?

JS     That depends on the detail. I think at this stage it's rhetoric, rationalisation. I can't equate myself with the entire struggle. I'm just one contributor and my contribution does not exceed other people's contribution, so that I can't say well I am charged with - it is the detail. First I think it's putting the cart before the horse if he wants to justify his case. Let the trial go on and the detail must be open and public and he explains and afterwards he may be acquitted and say, you see it was actually the methods we had to use, not me, I wasn't doing it for self-aggrandisement, I had to do it. I did not have to disclose that I have received £400,000 from -

POM     So I had to buy a big house in Constantia!

JS     I'm coming to that, I'm coming to that. Depending when it is an agreement that we invest the money this way. If it's for yourself with that money then you took that which is now yours, so sell it now, those things that are there, and give it back to the people. I don't think it is, I really regard it as ... In the first place I don't know why people are in a hurry to celebrate and express things in that fashion. I would prefer to move quietly and face my trial. Afterwards when I have succeeded and now make a huge jamboree of celebration and say you see I wasn't wrong, or, I am found guilty but these are the reasons why I did A, B, C, D. Of course I wouldn't tell them that I stole, if I stole then I've no business to open my mouth. But if I didn't steal and merely shifted funds to this place in order to conceal them for the good of the struggle I am sure I would be forgiven for that and people would pardon me for that. But if I have taken it for my BMW or Mercedes Benz then it's a bad thing, I am not truthful and why do you want to use a scare story. It's like the olden days, if you hit me you're hitting the whole movement. This is rubbish. There have been conflicts there, two chappies from opposite camps fight over a girl friend and the whole two movements or organisations fight. That's dangerous, it's very dangerous ... and say this is your problem, you're fighting over a girl friend and we two movements are not meant for that, we are far above that. We are not going to join you in that. You fight it out if you want to fight it out alone. Don't involve our movement. But they did it, a terrible slip, many a time where you found an organisation trying to come to rally behind a member and they were doing all wrong things because of one or two or three or a handful of people.

POM     So my last, very last question. When I come back to see you again in three months or so do you expect that you will have crossed your own Rubicon?

JS     I hope I will have gone to the TRC, I hope I will have done that. I hope so. Let me just have the strength of detaching myself from my slavery, my work. But I really want to do that. It will be a sad day for me if this thing ends and I have not gone there because it's so dicey. The people who are in the TRC are people that I know for a long time. I would also love to see how they react to what I am saying, where their hearts are. I would love to see that. I would love to see what my Bishop, Archbishop, will react to these things. He doesn't know I've been carrying pain, I've been mixing with him, he doesn't know. I've never gone to him to say, Padré this is my burden. He doesn't know, and when he knows one would like to see how he reacts, because he can't react like a human being, an individual. He's within the TRC, he has got to act within the parameters of the TRC, but one would want to see, one would want to see how they react. Some of them, I've been engaged with them in the Council, I've told them, I've quarrelled with them on this whole mythical power of leadership. Your church leaders, ask them, your church leaders. What makes you think that you are God? What makes you think that you have a monopoly of wisdom because you are church leaders? I was at variance with them for saying that. That's when I left the SACC because I was fighting this whole thing. We fought this pressure, the church took it's position in terms of church/state relationships. Now on the eve of our government you seem to drop that fight and give preference to other things.

     No, your job is beginning, you have to monitor our incoming government. You don't have to jump on their bandwagon much as you monitored the church from being manipulated by apartheid. Who told you these human beings when they wield power they will do it like angels? No, go on, play the role, be the prophet, play your prophetic role, continue playing your prophetic role, and I crossed swords with them already at that stage and they were saying, you must be an arrogant fellow. I said I am not arrogant, I am saying continue playing your role.  We cannot be the movement, the church can't hope to be the left wing of the movement. You take the high ground and build, continue with your prophetic role even if it means your churches must close. You were quite brave and did it well against apartheid, why now do you want to be left? Are you beginning to draw lines and it is just some of them sitting there, I would love to see. I am happy that they quickly discovered it and Tutu said we don't do that and that was courageous of him when the very movement or some people of the movement, when he stood that day at KwaThema and said, "I tell you, my people, if you are going to necklace people then I pack my bags and go", and they hated his guts. They nearly wrecked his enthronement in Cape Town, I was there, for having said that, but he went back and everything. But he was right, he came up with the gravy train, if you are on the gravy train again just wait, and that is very courageous. That's what I think the role should be, prophets, without fear nor favour spell the truth, pronounce the truth.

     But I still want to see how they will feel. Am I still the arrogant guy? This is what I am carrying. And I could shred it to little bits to show how I think some plot has been done against me. I haven't talked about Lusaka a lot when I was there, just mentioned I was isolated, but I haven't told you other things that confirmed or convinced me that indeed I was highly suspect and because I was suspect, because of what I said, and my strong suspicion is that they had discovered that that guy who died in Quatro camp is my younger brother, but I had, I would say, a gift, God just helped me. I never looked for him openly by word of mouth. I just went around this world quietly watching, putting things together. And I feel if I went out enquiring verbally I would have got hurt so I just went silently and I heard someone, I'm not mentioning his name even though the chances that I could hear his name mentioned was very remote because they were using pseudonyms, but the description I would have heard, I never heard it. I went as far as East Berlin and I looked around, East Berlin, Germany. I looked around quietly, carefully, no documents, but it was so plain. I went there, looked around, met people I know were happy. But none, none could tell. Those who tell me about Bulgaria, I learn he also underwent training there. Nobody ever says anything, so maybe he's scum, regarded as scum, but at least when you meet the family of scum be bold and say your brother was just covered with scum and I will be happy. I don't want anything, just to know where he is, how he died, why he died, what kind of trial was he given in the process and who finished him off. Not that I want to do anything, it would just be nice to say you were wonderful, General, you did it. I hope you are not going to do any mistake, let me rely on you, you're a great clean guy so continue in that cleanliness of yours. Never ever make a mistake and let me down. If you were the sole judge and you were convinced you were right, so let it be. Look after our business, be clean, remain clean yourself.

     So I don't know, it's a long way, but I'm just a speck in the ocean but there are many people who have perhaps heavier burdens than mine but I am wearing my shoe and it pinches me. It's like I always see the wonderful picture of the President crushing limestone and we who were there before him laughed, what's this crushing limestone? That's nothing. We would break hard rock with splinters that we bear the marks to this day. Here they are. When it cuts you so sharp. If it hits you on the neck you may die, just a splinter from it. But, well, I shall say we take nothing away. I was interviewed on Robben Island in the President's cell, I sat on his bed. They said how does it feel to sit on your bed again? I said I don't know this, I have never slept on this bed, I have never seen a bed. I still bear black marks here on my loins from the hard grass mat. I don't know this.

POM     What a bed is?

JS     Good space, I am sure I could double the time. I could spend 54 years here. But I'm just joking. Leaders are leaders I suppose. Everything that they experience is better than the ordinary person's thing. The mothers who lose three, four, five kids all at one go never become mothers of the nation. It is just those who get through a spell of six months detention who manage to be mothers of the nation. Those mothers there who lost their kids never became mothers of the nation. I was just reading this morning one of the people, the women, they poured acid on her genitals, she will never be regarded as mother of the nation. So this is a funny way about this life. I think he has been humble enough, I was in Oslo when he received his award, Nobel Prize. When he got it he said, I got this prize by standing on the shoulders of the people there who suffered. They elevated me. It is not really mine, it is theirs. I think he was humble enough. There are very few leaders who can do that, especially politicians. If they do it it's just playing to the gallery. When they operate they treat people like dirt, like dirt. They put barriers and barriers of secretaries so that they are never reached and we talk of accessibility, transparency. Transparency. Where has there been transparency? Where is the damn accountability if you can't come to me when you are in power and account for the whereabouts of my brother? You're not convincing me when you talk transparency and accountability, you're not convincing me that you're just as good as me. You're bad, you're bad, you're frail and frail so don't try to make yourself better than all the people who look like you. But maybe I bear them a grudge, I don't know, but I don't bear them a grudge. These are ways of the world that bewilder me and somebody might be saying the same thing about me. I don't know but there may be. Along the way we will get our act together, we will be able to operate and interact in such a convincing way that we realise what we mean for all these years: freedom for everybody, true democracy if there is such a thing, and at least an amount of justice that we can afford, attain it so that lives, there is a difference.

POM     I hope when I come back that you will have crossed a very personal Rubicon and we'll talk about it.

JS     I hope so Patrick, I hope so. I am keeping my finger crossed so that I must discharge the things I have to discharge whilst I still have the time. I might be gone tomorrow.

POM     Thank you, as always terrific.

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.