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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Oct 1997: Jones, Colin

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POM     My apologies for being late. You talked about go-slow?

CJ     The situation in South Africa reminds me when last I passed through Heathrow it was the day before a full blown strike was due to take place and I think there was a sort of go-slow on at the time, and I waited for five hours for my bag. It made me ask myself the question, how does one actually distinguish between a British Air full blown strike and British Air working at normal pace. The distinction is very fine indeed.

POM     This is one of the world's best airlines.

CJ     I'm not trying to be rude about the world's best airline.

POM     I don't want you to be rude about it, it's just to share with you that in 1993 I was bringing Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer over to be honorary degree recipients at our University of Massachusetts and to be our Commencement speakers and they had to go via London. So British Airways called a strike, so it took a year, eighteen months to manoeuvre getting them together to go via London in case they were stuck.

CJ     Well I think Her Majesty underestimates the power of the British. It's not as diminished as she thinks.

POM     What do you think of the way Princess Diana's death has been treated? I went to England after it and I was stunned by the effect it had on every segment of society.

CJ     Yes. I think it would take greater minds than mine certainly to unpick what is at the heart of it. I think there are just so many dimensions around the life and death of Diana which made that such an incredible phenomenon. I don't think any one person is ever going to be able to interpret that.  Here in South Africa I think it's a mixture of Diana's impact as a personality, a member of the Royal Family, there are many royalists in this country still. It's a very strange thing.

POM     Why? What did she touch?

CJ     I think it's a combination of youth and beauty and poise and romance, the whole fairy tale thing. The media also helped to create a picture in the minds of people which very often had very little actual content. You just had her in your face so often. There was hardly a week that went by that some national or international magazine didn't carry her photograph. So she was so much in your face I think she became part of people's daily lives, a bit like Post Toasties and Coca Cola. Diana was part of the kind of signage, her face was almost a commercial sign and used by the media and others. There was something about her which was a product which could be sold.

POM     I wrote a very vitriolic article, which I never published, after she died. Maybe God struck me down with malaria and said this is a no-go, but it was about how she was created by the media and destroyed by the media. It's all ephemeral. When you look for the face of what's there, there is no face except the culture that is like hi-tech information, she's in your face as you said but it's not a real person.

CJ     Well the thing that really fascinates me about Diana is not Diana, it's the power of the media actually and this is really what this is about. Even her death was a media event. The media controlled and orchestrated all of that. If Diana had been given a funeral in England and it wasn't televised and it wasn't given all of that build up, and even now the hype afterwards, I think that they would probably get over Diana pretty quickly. But the media owned her when she was alive and they own her now and the media and technology will keep Diana alive. That's what it's about essentially. It's more about the power of the media than about the personality of this person.

POM     Let's translate that into modern day South Africa. This is a country that began in 1994, the highest profile, the hype that the country could go with everybody in the world, every media outlet in the world gushing for ... and yet it has in some ways imploded. What happened to the media that made them turn on South Africa in the way that it has?

CJ     They haven't turned on South Africa, they just turned away I think and they have re-focused. I think one of the things which drives the media world is the fact that they know that one is operating on limited attention spans all the time and that very few events and very few people can keep the attention span of the world for an extended period. The Nelson Mandelas and the Desmond Tutus are what make the news. It's not so much what's going on in South Africa. People aren't all that taken up with events as much as they are taken up with personalities. I think it's a very human thing. The events of Diana's life are far less important and crucial than the personality and personalities are what the media, to some extent I think, have been able to manipulate, create, destroy, and they have moved on to other events, other personalities. It will be very interesting to trace where the focus went after 1994 and I think when the media so determines it will re-focus on South Africa or on some other event. Bosnia is no longer necessary, it's gone, and yet it was, again, something we could not avoid. Zaire, central Africa now becomes the focus. But it seems to me, and I'm not criticising this, I think it's just a fact that the media has tremendous power to determine what receives attention and because of that it has tremendous responsibility to stay with things. What I'm afraid of is when the media turns away from a situation, just as it becomes critical for international attention to be focused on it and to move things along we've seen situations where the world has turned away, the media has turned the world's attention away from situations and awful things have happened, genocides have happened.

POM     And forgotten, used to be in the news.

CJ     Yes exactly. What was happening before was that the media focused our attention on Croatia, Bosnia. What happened, it led to another lesser extent, or maybe a greater extent, when the world wasn't focusing on the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany and Europe. And I think for me one of the greatest issues that we face today in this world is the issue around who controls information. In the information age we haven't, I think, woken up to the power of those who control information in determining the destiny of nations, man and women.

POM     If you put that in the context of say, South Africa, numerous people I talk to, almost every I talk to in the ANC, government or whatever, they say the media is almost still like the third force, or a fourth force, it's still operating out there as a bad critic. They don't even have the credentials, the right to critique. How would you see what they've done, how would you judge what they've done in the last three years?

CJ     I think that the media, like other institutions within society, struggle with freedom. The media is in the unique position, I think, of having a freedom, the freedom of the press, the freedom around proof, which people are incredibly afraid of, of tampering with, criticising. I think one of the almost sacrosanct institutions in democratic society with the media is that it's very difficult to criticise the media without being accused of being undemocratic, of being totalitarian. It's bit like the position of Jews and it's very difficult criticising anything in Israel without being accused of being anti-Semitic. It bothers me tremendously that we are so afraid to engage the issue of the people of the press because the media itself is struggling with its tremendous power and I think that one of the challenges facing us in this country is how we engage the media in a way which allows for freedom of the press, for truth to get out there without undermining the other things that you want to achieve. There is a truth uber alles we're talking about, is that what democracy is about? I'm not sure that we've answered that question.

POM     In our conversation of last year, which I've the advantage of having read, and you don't put it down to the difference between finding what is given as injustice and the balance between the TRC was doing. You were worried about the direction it was going, that there was far more emphasis on the forgiveness and reconciliation part of it and I think you mentioned that that was part of the traditions of Christian churches, but the element of justice was the missing link here in some way. Now that was in March. Do you think they are moving in what I would call an even more ameliorating direction, i.e. come before us, confess and you're forgiven and it's stamped, you're out, tell us the sins of the past, what's the difference between eliminate, separate, terminate, get rid of - or as the great phrase of Henry II about Beckett, who said, "Who will rid me of this tiresome priest?" Are we still moving in that direction?

CJ     I continue to be concerned about the inability of most of us in this country to do a balancing act. I think in some funny kind of way we tend to be all or nothing and I think that what we're going to have to do or what we're going to have to learn to do here is to be a little more diplomatic, a little more not devious but considered in how we approach the difficult issues of our day. I believe less and less that the answers to our country lie in absolute positions. I don't think that the answer to South Africa is about truth and reconciliation. We have to factor in justice. We have to factor in the implications of what is almost too much truth will do to this nation. Somebody said humankind can only bear so much reality.

POM     There's an excess of truth.

CJ     Exactly. I think for me theologically speaking I've often thought of evil as being the excess of goodness, when you push liberty too far it becomes almost a kind of - the excess of liberty can be an over-indulgence of freedom, it becomes a kind of libertinism almost. The excess of love can become lust. The excess of generosity, you can kill people with generosity. And often it seems to me that evil is not the opposite of good but the over-indulgence in too much good. We can in fact be so humble that we're proud of our humility. It's that sort of thing.

POM     That's a beautiful phrase. I want to go back on that for a secondary reason. I'm trying to research a book on the difference between evilness and mental illness, the mentally ill. Where is the line drawn between the two? When does one stop over to being the other? This is nothing to do with South Africa.

CJ     It's an interesting comparison. Another comparison for me is how people who seek to be faithful to God, you know often their religious faith if you push it too far it becomes fanaticism and fanatics would consider themselves the most religious, the most faithful, the most right people. But there's a point of being too right and that becomes evil. We see that around us all the time. But very often I think people - the exceptions to it are very rare indeed, very few people are extremely evil. Our problems are sometimes that people are too good.

POM     The banality of goodness as distinct from banality of evil.

CJ     And it's very hard to criticise the people who are too good. I think that the media, to get back to this question of the media, the media can be too true. How much truth do you publish? Do you do it at any cost? Do you publish the truth at all costs? Do you tell the truth in such a surfeit that you might create panic because some people are not able to handle the truth, or do you try and balance it in such a way that you take into consideration those who cannot handle too much?

POM     Are those mixed judgements on how to balance?

CJ     Well you do, it's left entirely in the hands of editors and a very few people who have no special skill or gift. We've been leaving those sorts of decisions in the hands of people like the editors who have no special skills or gifts about most other people in society. What special training do they have in terms of deciding how much truth is too much? None, absolutely none and they're not being motivated, as it were, by absolutely pure agendas either. They've got people out there who are demanding sales of newspapers also. I just think that we're putting the newspapers in the same position that we've put the churches and that the new terror could well be the freedom of the press. Too much religious freedom, too much press freedom.

POM     Why did you leave the church?

CJ     Because I think for the claims that the church as an institution make for itself and it knows the truth, it knows what goodness is, it knows what God is, that terrifies me. I'm a born sceptic and agnostic.

POM     You are brilliant, and I say that about very few people.

CJ     Will you tell my mother that?

POM     Well I will, I'll write her a letter. But you are one of the few core people that whenever I come back and meet and talk to that I walk away from the conversation feeling refreshed and renewed. You always have that ability to stimulate a kind of thinking that was non-traditional Anglican or Catholic, or whatever you want to call it and whatever comes between, church thinking. But what led you to say 'I must find a different path', whereas Tutu can say 'My path lies within that tradition?' We talked a little bit about this the last time. There are some huge differences not only in the way you think but which, again, is justice, how you balance justice against - ?

CJ     I think it's where one starts out from. I start out from the position that I do not know and I end up with a position that I probably will not know, but that doesn't stop me from trying to know. I am incredibly stimulated and excited by what I do not know, that's what drives me. I think in that sense I am a faithful agnostic and I am absolutely committed to not knowing because it's what keeps me going and wakes me up the next morning because I know that there is so much more that I do not know and will not know. And because of that there are no answers, there are no answers. I react against, and it's an almost knee-jerk reaction, against anything that purports to give me an answer because I know that if you wait long enough the very people who give you an answer at ten o'clock in the morning will be giving a different answer at four o'clock.

POM     But you were in a position when you were at St George's where you would have to prepare a sermon, now would you sit down and prepare the sermon, would you have a thought in your mind and say, well I'm fluent enough not to let it go in my head or would you look at the congregation and try to speak to the congregation. Do you know what the difference is, the point I'm trying to make?

CJ     I think so. I think what I tried to do at the Cathedral was to show people that it is possible to have faith while not having answers. In fact I believe that it's absolutely critical that one doesn't have answers in order to have faith. I think I've said to you before that for me the opposite of faith is not doubt, the opposite of faith is certainty.

POM     But when you looked at your congregation, when you sat down on a Friday or whatever and said you were going to prepare a sermon for Saturday or Sunday, and you looked there, I don't want to make the comparison but I will because it's appropriate, that is like Roelf Meyer having to sit down with the National Party as FW de Klerk told him and come up with a new concept for the party and he said, "I can't, I can't get beyond where we are, we are so bound." What led you to move to take - do you take your faith into something living or something that's kind of now part of your life, you've become involved in a more technically oriented world?

CJ     I think what moved me to make that decision was my profound disbelief, lack of faith in the institutions.

POM     Beginning with?

CJ     The church as an institution.

POM     Are you still - ?

CJ     No I think that the church has limits and because it's an institution it can only go that far. The thing that terrified me most was that as I progressed within the institution in terms of the career that I found myself being put in a position where my job and my energies were directed more and more and more to preserving the institutions.

POM     Can you elaborate a little on that because that's very important? You were brilliant where you were, you were an up and comer, you were the new boy on the block, you were the whatever.

CJ     I think one needs to understand how the church as an institution operates I think and to try and -

POM     The Anglican Church and the Catholic Church even more so.

CJ     Yes the Anglican Church. But I think that's probably true of most mainline churches. I think that what happens within certain churches is because of the relationship between the clergy and the institution one is so dependent upon the institution for one's existence, the church provides you with home, provides you with security, provides you with a safe environment in order for you to be able to preach its message, that you preach a message which never ever challenges the institution because in challenging the institution you undermine your own security. So in a way it's a kind of co-dependent relationship and the higher up you go, the more you advance the more critical it becomes to you to defend the institution. The problem, of course, arose many, many centuries back when the church became an institution and a legitimate institution in Rome and this is Constantine's contribution. If the church had continued to be persecuted it might be in a far better position, I think, in its ability to do its job. The church is no longer persecuted, the church is part of the establishment and therefore seeks to do what most establishments do and that is to perpetuate themselves into the future.

POM     I haven't heard, I don't mean this just about the Anglican Church because I can even say it more so about the Catholic Church, is that I haven't heard a real word of the demand of justice to see what happened in Rwanda, that we'd better get in up to our knees, up to our necks. And I want to relate that back to the TRC and I'll give you three things to think of because I'm trying to save your time and ask as many questions as I can as quickly as possible to get the advantage of your intelligence. Would you give Clive Derby-Lewis amnesty? What would you do if you were on the TRC?

CJ     I would leave the justice system to deal with Clive Derby-Lewis. In fact I believe that we should leave the justice system to deal with anybody who has -

POM     This is one reason you wouldn't be appointed because they are saying they will leave justice aside in the act of trying to find truth and reconciliation.

CJ     I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I think that to have justice prevail could be an act of reconciliation. I think that ensuring that justice prevails, and should, enables true reconciliation to happen.

POM     If under the law as required by the Truth & Reconciliation Act that full disclosure to tell every incidence of violence you were involved in and show how it was linked to a political motivation, we went through this in detail last year. It's fascinating reading. I would add my voice to the view that justice needs to be seen to be done and amnesty is one which I think is going to find itself -  (break in recording)

     So the question again, what do we do with Clive Derby-Lewis? You have a decision to make.

CJ     For me the proof of the pudding is in the eating and true reconciliation in South Africa can only be determined by whether the people of this country in fact are in the position to say we forgive you and you have made some amends. I don't think it's in the power of the commission to determine what a victim should feel about somebody's amnesty application. I worry tremendously about the fact that the body of very, very good people who will now tell, not only say it to the perpetrators that we accept your explanation, but say to the victims that you have to accept this too and you should now go away because those guys have said we accept what they are saying and therefore you should accept what they are saying. That doesn't deal with the victim's pain. That doesn't deal with what the victim has suffered and continues to suffer. The question of restitution, I made the point last time, to the victim is one which I think is totally missed out here. So somebody can justify their actions on the basis of having carried it out under orders, politically motivated and whether or not they enjoyed the experience and did it willingly. The point is that these people also as human beings had the opportunity to say I will not do that thing, you have given me this order, I will disobey that order.

POM     We went through this again, I hate going back over old territory but in the last couple of weeks it's been like General after General who have come up and said, "I gave orders but it was to remove from society or to make threats to society", all kinds of verbiage that was used. Words like 'terminate with prejudice', that was the phrase that you wouldn't just be terminated but you'd be terminated with prejudice. So where is the commission dealing with the act of language and how language would be interpreted?

CJ     It's not, I think a lot of issues are just being glossed over. But the key issues, it seems to me -

POM     OK, run through what has been glossed over.

CJ     I mean, look at the use of language. Who is contesting the issue? It sounds to me a little bit like Lewis Carol in Alice in Wonderland. Is that the kind of society in which we want to live? Are we saying that's OK as long as you're acting under orders, or you have the freedom to interpret orders in the way in which you wish?

POM     You made that comment the last time. I've got you on everything on that. Where do we go beyond that? What is happening now with the commission? Is it moving in a different direction or is it moving to position itself to come out with a particular version of history and truth?

CJ     I think that the TRC is being motivated by a deep desire to (deal with) the past and with a great hope that it might pick up what is left and move forward. I don't think that's enough for this country.  I don't think that we have enough to go forward with. I think that we will have to take very, very seriously, very credible deep pain and damage which has been done. It's no good us sitting there and weeping with the victims. We're going to have to find restitution, it's the element which seems to be missing in all of this, and to condone, in a sense, to condone the actions purely on this basis that they were acting under orders, or the political situation was such that they could interpret those orders, seems to be to completely ignore the crucial human element and that is, I'm sorry I'm going back into it, what makes a human society is the fact that we as individual human beings have choices to make and I refuse to accept that people who sit around eating meat at a braaivleis while the body of their victim is burning can claim that they were acting under orders and get away with that. I refuse to accept that. I think that we are condoning inhumanity here.

POM     This is maybe what I wanted to get to, is how would you differentiate - I was supposed to see Kader Asmal this morning and as usual misunderstood but we are supposed to get together for dinner and I'm going to bring up this issue because I have a deep reservation about his book.

CJ     I have not read it, but we're very good friends, we've got lots of admiration for each other.

POM     Anybody who spent 30 years in exile in Dublin, who outtalks all the Dublin people, somebody who becomes even more Irish than the Irish themselves.

CJ     How are you doing for time?

POM     You tell me.

CJ     I'm very flexible.

POM     I will by and large cancel my next interview to talk to you because you're important to talk to. I've established there are certain people who are important after eight or nine years who are important to talk to, who come through things, respond to things, have independent minds about the way society is being run, what religion should be and what the role of religion and whatever, and you're one of those. You are always endlessly fascinating. I always leave you feeling, wow! If only I were that bright!

CJ     I'm not sure whether to be flattered or not. Anyway.

POM     When you see it all in print then you can make up your mind. But I disagree with Kader. For example, I would differentiate between - these are things we've touched on and I want you to elaborate on - what I would call manufacturer's genocide, that is the Jews and Nazism where you actually create a system where you systematically and methodically destroy, where the manufacture of death becomes a function of life, where you employ people to say your only function in life is to kill people, that's your job. Every day you get bodies through. Two, is what I would call ethnic genocide which is more the ritual that you do, not unplanned, maybe semi-planned, but it depends upon the dynamic of people.  Three, apartheid which was regarded as a crime against humanity, war against blacks. I ultimately have trouble with a lot of that thinking.

CJ     I can understand your problem because if one looks at the facts it's true that by and large black people were the victims of the apartheid philosophy but it wasn't that white people were not victims too and certainly I don't think apartheid was purely racist. It was a mixture, this is what makes it such a fascinating phenomena, it was such an interesting mixture of racism, political philosophy, religion, all of that stuff thrown in. Somehow in trying to unravel this we haven't actually identified the different strands within apartheid. I have often said, in the struggle against apartheid when I was travelling around America, I used to say to people that this isn't purely about race, it's also about economy, it's also about wealth. It was a fascinating combination of how people wanted power, the raw desire for control and power unleashed here. People wanted Christians to dominate, they wanted white people to dominate, they wanted the wealthy to dominate, they wanted everything which up to that point in history had been what had pushed progress. And South Africa became almost the laboratory in which the rest of the world was prepared to sit back and look at because here was an opportunity to see whether in fact Christianity was superior to any other religion, whether in fact white was superior to any other race, whether in fact wealth was superior to poverty and where the whole thing could work and where, if the western world waged its bets appropriately and invested wisely, it could actually benefit from all of this without being tainted with being called racist or exploitative or religious fanatics. You could have all of that happening in this country at the tip of Africa, far away geographically. We were situated far away from the north and the west and you could have this hodgepodge of sin operating and for a very long time Britain, America, Germany, all of these nations which avowed to have transcended racism and religious fanaticism and all of this stuff, could allow for an experiment to take place which they were benefiting from and that's why I think we didn't see the commitment to get involved because if South Africa could work then all of these other nations could justify something of their own evil.

POM     This phrase used by FW de Klerk, he says,

     "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 of 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 a people to be free."

     And then a bit later De Klerk saying:

     "What we wanted was to 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."

     Now I'm more interested in the first part than the second part, the second part is really garbage. Do you still get a sense, this is where I would come to what I would call transformation, do you think most Afrikaners, most whites believe that we wanted to do something right and it got screwed up along the way? We're sorry for the mistakes we made, we screwed up, but we don't understand what we were doing wrong.

CJ     I think it's a very selective view of what they were doing. What the Afrikaners wanted might well have been separate and equal, well separate but not equal, and it could be separate as long as there was a labour supply, as long as your gardener was black, your miner who tunnelled down there was black, as long as your labour force was black and separate that was fine. I think this is a view of history from hindsight. There was no desire for economic empowerment and for a separateness and equality. It was always separate in which black people would live over there in their own space but in which they would be an endless reservoir of labour and which would live there for the benefit of whites.

POM     Unfortunately I don't read German, but if you believe in this kind of social engineering, you could actually as a way to solve the colonial problem - what the Brits did was say we're marching out of here and we're leaving behind us this huge mess. On a moral scale or a theological scale, would you say the damage done to, say, Rwanda, to Burundi, to Kenya, to move all the way through the hemisphere where catastrophic civil wars which even after formal independence ... well, what should be done? And there are no Truth & Reconciliation Commissions there to say get your act together and try and work it out. Did South Africa and its apartheid regime manage damage in a better way than it was managed in the rest of Africa? The damage managed in the rest of Africa.

CJ     I'm not sure I've got your question.

POM     The simple question would be, did apartheid manage to control oppression in a way where at the end of the day the blood-letting was far less than the blood-letting would have been in Zaire or the Congo and even right up through the whole continent, or in Zimbabwe for that matter?

CJ     I hear what you're saying. I think that while it is true that one nation's activities often influence or are contingent upon another nation's, I don't think that apartheid can be blamed for all of Africa's troubles. I think that what we need to do in this country is to accept fairly and squarely our own culpability and to go on blaming colonialism, to go on blaming apartheid is just not enough. What we haven't done is to acknowledge as individuals, as individual people, our own personal responsibility, accountability and power to influence the situations around us. What we have done is to swallow hook, line and sinker the fact that we are all victims. The problem with Africa, the problem with South Africa is this victimisation (syndrome).

POM     South Africa or Africa?

CJ     We're connected, we're part of that. The trap of Africa is that we are the victims of history, we are as it were the victims of the misfortune of the past. I think the most disempowering thing about Africa is that we laid so much store on history and I don't believe any longer that history has that much power or value. There was a time I did and my personal history - I blamed everything on the fact that my parents were divorced when I was a child and all of my life circumstances were contingent upon my past. I am no longer driven by my past. I think the break, the true liberation comes when you're no longer driven by your past but when you are impelled by your vision of the future. The trouble with Africa is that we have a very vague vision of the future. Thabo Mbeki probably of all African leaders is one of the few people on this continent who has something of a vision. He hasn't articulated it. We can't be responding to the past, we have to be drawn by the future. The past only holds us captive, the past can never empower us, the past is not an impelling force, the future is.

POM     This comes around to one of my questions; when I come around and around and around in circles I have certain common questions. I don't feel a common vision being there, I don't feel the man in the street is connected to the nation. The man on the street wants his house, wants his car, wants not to be hi-jacked. There is no, as Mandela described at one time,  there is a need for a new patriotism, coming together, that this generation must sacrifice for the next generation. It's like this generation is saying screw you, we want it now. There is no cohesiveness, as distinct from nationhood there is no national cohesiveness.

CJ     I agree, I agree entirely and what I am saying is that the reason for that was because we've been through a process of redress, we're talking about truth and reconciliation. We want to know the truth about the past and reconcile ourselves with our past. To a certain extent that need to be done but the most compelling force of history is not the past. What makes history is not - we never learn from our history, that's why history repeats itself, what impels history are those people who have a sense of a future they do not yet know and cannot yet quantify a policy and true leadership is about those leaders who can with a vision, however dim, draw people into that. I think when I hear Thabo Mbeki talking about this African renaissance that's the kind of language we need to be talking.

     I was talking about the difference between being held back by the past and being impelled, or compelled rather, by the future and that there are forces at work in our world today and in South Africa we don't have the luxury of just dealing with, the time to deal with our past. The future is compelling us forward and that's what bothers me about getting caught up in the kind of philosophical stuff about justice and reconciliation and stuff. Now there's a sense in which the church has a hand in all of this, as if you can stop time and deal with those issues. We can't stop time. We are being impelled or compelled by the future and South Africa if it is going to grow beyond its past is going to have to allow those forces to work. What bothers me is that we don't have anything in this country which is recognising the future impulses.

POM     The future impulses?

CJ     When it comes to technology, the economy, science, philosophy, all of those things are what we need to move us forward as a nation. It's not just about ruling and the political past. In a sense it seems to me that what the TRC does despite itself is to hold us to the past. I don't see the energy driving us into the future. So what if we deal with the past, where do we go from there? The future is taking off at a rapid rate of knots ahead of us.

POM     Evil is either that one does not abuse the word evil, one should reserve it for the worst, like you used it, the four categories of manufactured death, Nazism where they planned a situation of the people to carry out, where they would get up every day and they would say, "My job today is to kill 200 or 300 people and to do that I'll have to work hard, see that the equipment works smoothly and the chimneys don't get clogged up and I'm pumping out the ashes of people."  It's pre-planned, some things can be planted but it's where people turn upon each other in a murderous way - what was done, how countries were left. Here the African colonialists left a legacy of chaos. Some of these problems still exist through immoral complicity. How does one list them? Is it an evil or what?

CJ     I don't know whether I could do it. I would suspect that apartheid is all of the above. There were those who permitted genocide, there were those for whom it was part of their job. As you said, how many people can I kill today and keeping the chimneys unblocked. Those were compelled by the day-to-day dynamics and just went with the flow, got involved in violence as the situation arose. That's what made apartheid so unique, that it is all of the above, it is about everything that has happened before. What we're trying to do, I think, is to make it into separate categories. I think that there were those who carried out these atrocities under orders, there were those who ordered all of that.

POM     It was a conscious government policy of elimination. I have trouble equating apartheid with Nazism.

CJ     If you look at, just historically, there were those who were in the Ossewabrandewag for instance who identified themselves with the Nazi agenda. In the second world war they were Nazis.  What I am saying is that apartheid wasn't a unique philosophy but apartheid was in fact what it is because of its incredible all-encompassing nature and it included Nazism, it included the genocidal stuff, it included the racial stuff, it included the economic power stuff, all of that. In that way it becomes maybe the most sophisticated system of domination that society has known.

POM     From the point of view, like moving six million Jews or whatever from the system might have X% effect on the economy, but when you say we want to get rid of them, these costs are increasing our GDP, so we employ people to do it as distinct from apartheid which no matter how crazy any white leader was there was no economy without black labour.

CJ     For me I think the ameliorating factor is that there was no orchestrated plan. I don't think apartheid was an orchestrated plan because it was something which was happening and being made up as it went along.  There were different ways in which apartheid was described, sometimes it was called apartheid, sometimes separate development, there was different terminology. I think the thing about South Africa is that I don't believe in a grand master plan. I believe that what happened was a sort of make up as you go along, there were many different impulses and inputs which happened because of external pressures or happened because of the personalities involved. That's the thing, because it wasn't a grand plan and a clear blueprint because its general direction was contributions along the way. It was an experiment in the best sense of the word.

POM     Something idealistic to separate the continent.

CJ     What I think is that either by De Klerk's statement that for some of the people involved in that, that was their agenda, for others it was not their agenda. It was a hodgepodge agenda of good and evil and I think to try and explicitly wrap up apartheid as this is what apartheid is in two lines is a nonsense because there were some very, very different dynamics, personal and organisational dynamics.

POM     One could say apartheid has not been the most evil thing in the 20th century.

CJ     I think if you began by saying shit happens and because it happens and it happens because it was a mixture, a hodgepodge of good and evil intention. I think that there were those who were trying to deal with the historical circumstance in a way which sought, the Afrikaners, the Boere who were trying to avoid it ever happening to them again and as that determination to avoid the past grew so other agendas were attached to it. I don't think that history is planned, history is not planned, history happens. The more important things in life happen, apartheid happened. There was some planning along the way but there was no sticking to a blueprint boys, let's go back to the blueprint. Now there were times when apartheid sought some kind of equality, it sought some kind of separation, it sought some people that are different. There were times when it sought to suppress. I think that we shouldn't try and force apartheid into a one sentence definition because it isn't that kind of thing. That's what made it so interesting to the world around us because we all recognised something of our own evil in apartheid, could identify with it. That's why Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz and some of the British companies stayed here. They could argue that they had a role to play because they were identifying with some of the good. That's what makes South Africa so fascinating. It's the miracle stuff, the good stuff, that they recognised in this country universally all of the evil agendas that we have but also all of the best hopes that we have. The future of this country is going to depend on whether we can realise those hopes. We know that we can act out the worst of our agendas. The test is whether we can realise the best of our hopes.

POM     Now if you went abroad and gave that message ten years ago how would it have been received?

CJ     A very mixed reception. But none of us, it's a human thing, none of us will acknowledge our worst side. But being human is about the problem of good and evil, to come to terms with that as individuals, as communities and nations. We are a mixture of good and evil and we have to come to terms with that. That's on the one side. On the other side I really believe that the commitment to the future, the future that we do not yet know, that's faith. That's why I'm a person of faith. I'm not a person of religion but I'm a person of faith. Each morning I wake up and I say I will try this day to be true to the demands and energies of this day to get me through this day and into tomorrow. I'm not trying to uphold some truth of the past. Desmond asked me some months ago, I don't know if I told you about this, he said, "Now that you've stepped outside of the church I worry about you. Where is your safety net?" And I don't know where the answer came from but it was almost instinctive, I said, "Do you know, Father, I didn't think that faith required one." Faith does not require a safety net. Those who live their lives with safety nets are not being faithful to the future. You cast yourself out, that's bungee jumping without a bungee. You have to believe in the future.

POM     How did he respond to that?

CJ     I think he was a bit taken aback by that because Desmond is a wonderfully - the part of him that I admire, he believes in the church as an institution, he believes in our history, he believes in our traditions and all of that. I believe in that too but I think what guides us is not the past but the pull of the future, for me the kind of Carl Sagans who go out beyond and say there is more out there beyond what Hubble can see. That's the kind of stuff that attracts me. And South Africa is but a small part of this planet's struggle and I am more concerned about how as a planetary community in the end we're going to envision our future and what's going to pull us forward and onward. The world as we know it has to end because it's about smallness, it's about the past, it's about trying to deal with that stuff. The world has to be about the future. I don't have any energy from the past. History has to repeat itself because we never learn, it will continue repeating itself. History is like a great big burp. The future is a breath of fresh air, not somewhere you go to take the wind. That's what must compel this country, this continent, this planet, the planetary community and religions that can't deal with the future, and when I talk about the future I'm not talking about the end of the world stuff, the future has to be open-ended. We're talking about billions of years, we're talking about life which goes beyond just what you and I experience. We don't even give credit to a cockroach's life and a cockroach has been around a hell of a lot longer than you and I have. We don't give credit to life. Now how can we talk about God and about life and goodness and faith if we don't give credit to the smallest things that have managed to survive for millions of years? And we're talking about truth and the greatest truths are the simplest very often. We are not at the centre of the universe and South Africa isn't what makes this world happen. We're but part of it and we need to put ourselves in some kind of humble perspective and get on with making sure that we are being part of the energy that propels us forward. How you translate that into political strategy, ideological truth, I leave to the theologians.

POM     I am more grounded in that the future of politics is the belief, assessment of values, that you have to in the global context put things in context. I always feel apologetic that to achieve stable democracy or whatever, if you didn't have these increments of democracy, what the National Party called their democracy in parliament -

CJ     I think what I suspect - I can't obviously claim to any real knowledge of it, but if that means that faith and religion can find a way of expression outside of the institution and we're going to see less and less institutional because people (have need) of faith and belief, less dogma and more personal spirituality and even communal spirituality outside of organised religion. So I think we're going to get more into the form of governing. We're talking not in the next ten, fifteen, twenty years, I'm talking a little way down the track there. So if we've got a long view in mind, we don't know where we're going, we don't know what we should be impelling this toward, I think that what we will see through information technology is the wheels that are going to drive us into the future at an increasingly rapid rate. We're going to see less and less geographical and regional political alliances as such and more and more a system of governing. What is going to be very, very difficult I think for us is to break away from the institutional government. But I think that the future of our existence and our organised existence will be in that regard.

     I use the church as an example because it's been around a long time and more and more and more one is seeing it in the church, maybe this is where the church is ahead of society, normally it's behind society. We're seeing more and more people leaving the institutionalised church, leaving behind formal doctrine and experiencing and experimenting with their own spirituality. We see people moving away from formal government to a sense of how they fit into the governance of their lives and of their society. I don't know what that means but I feel rather attracted to it. Maybe that appeals to the maverick in me. I think we're talking about true liberty. We need to be acknowledging the full potential of each individual and that means we need to be creative where we can actually trust the person next to us, around us, in our society, with my own life. It's very idealistic, extremely idealistic but I don't think that government is proving itself able to regulate and safeguard the development of the individual, the perfect interplay of individuals within the community which will do that and I'm not sure how we do it. I think I'm talking about maybe a hundred years ahead.

POM     Am I delaying you?

CJ     No, not at all.

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.