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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

27 Jul 1998: Jones, Colin

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POM     Let me begin, Colin, by referring to a couple of things you said at lunch that struck me as significant and different from things that we have talked about in previous conversations. First is that you said some months ago was the first time, having lived here through the seventies and the eighties and witnessed the brutalities of apartheid and the oppression and all the ancillary atrocities and abuses that accompanied that, that at that point you never considered leaving the country, and now in the fourth year of the new South Africa for the first time you received an offer, not that you considered the offer, but for the first time you considered actually leaving the country. What do you think accounts for that change of attitude on your behalf especially since you are one of the people who consistently have been most committed to the need for change and to redress the fundamental problems of the country?

CJ     I have to just say that it came as a tremendous shock to me when I realised that I was even beginning to consider the option. Before, it was very clear that I would not consider the option, there was reason to stay, there was a job to do. When I think about it I think that part of the reason is probably because given my own make-up and my background in the church and the kind of moral, ethical, theological reasons why we as a church were involved in the struggle, that part of that reason is that it is always easier to have an enemy to engage. There's a war to be fought, there's a battle against evil which is clearly out there which needs to be redressed. In the seventies and in the eighties it would have been almost treasonable, in a way, to run away from that challenge, for me personally, I'm not speaking about other people. People in my family did leave in the fifties, sixties and seventies and left this country because of opportunity elsewhere and no opportunity here. But it wasn't about opportunity then. For me, like for a lot of activists, it was about ridding ourselves of this evil which was apartheid and I think that as I begin to struggle with my own reasons for why I felt the way I did when this offer came up a few months ago, I think it's because of the absence of any clear thing for which we are fighting. I don't think we've articulated clearly what it is we are fighting for in this country and in ways which are practical and engageable for people like me. Maybe that's the old activist problem, we need a cause, we need a vision, we need something specific.

POM     Well in that sense one could say that Mandela has been a failure insofar as he has not been able to articulate a vision as to where the people are going and why they are going there.

CJ     It's hard to say anything bad about the President.

POM     But do, that's part of being a democracy.

CJ     Yes. We talk in this country about 'bending over blackwards', a kind of pun on bending over backwards, which is in fact a totally incorrect view of what has happened in the last four years. I think the President has been in the forefront of making everybody, and particularly, particularly whites, feel comfortable in this country, whites more so than other people in a way. He's a great icon for everybody, black and white, in this country and I think I understand the reasons as to why he has had to make everybody feel comfortable and make the world feel comfortable that we weren't going to be killing white people and paying them back for all the years, generations of hardship they caused us. And he's been remarkably successful. He's not a failure in that sense.

     I think we have failed, and he has failed, to articulate clearly to this country what it is that we are striving for, what it is that we have to do. We talk generally in terms of poverty, development, these are all words which are great words but which lack any kind of practical engagement. The people who really make an impression on me are the people like that woman in Khayelitsha, Patricia Matalengwe, who builds houses together with other women while government housing commissions and God knows what go on struggling about the housing issues and how enormous it is and how difficult it is to start, there are people who actually get the job going, ordinary people who have accepted the challenge. In a way I judge myself, I knock the President a little bit which is almost treasonable, I also judge myself in my failure to have really grasped the opportunities at the kind of grassroots level, to overuse that dreaded word again, to have grasped the opportunities.

     I am here at Spier because I think that, I hope that it will provide me with an opportunity to engage in a real practical realistic way with the issues of poverty in the Boland, with the issues of education or the lack of education in places like this. But I begin to think sometimes that our problem in SA is that we inflate everything beyond any recognisable reality, that we talk ourselves out of doing things because if we don't do the perfectly right thing then we won't do anything at all. It's what I call the over-purification of our motives. Unless the motives are absolutely pure and we solve every possible problem related to the one we are addressing, unless we can be guaranteed that at the end of the day, we will not do it.

     I'll give you an example, I used this in the restaurant earlier, we talked about the business of building a house. Now we're not going to build a house unless we can solve this region's other problems, employment problems, then we go on to the bloody ozone layer and next thing it's saving the earth and saving the world and saving the cosmos and unless we can save the cosmos we're not going to build the house. It's that incredible, we talk ourselves out of it, it seems to be almost deliberately to avoid the practical engagement. We have been so enamoured by the fascination of concepts and ideology.

POM     Does not the fact that you would have considered your own shock at leaving the country indicate that you feel a great disillusionment with what has happened in the last four years?

CJ     I couldn't blame it all on the country, I realise that there's a lot of personal stuff going on inside of me. I have made significant changes in my life. I'm struggling with my own personal issues. And yet one has to locate one's personal inner struggles within some broader context and it's when your inner struggles, your personal stuff and your outer struggles which show your engagements with society and so on, when those two things don't make sense then I think you find yourself in a position like me. But I think that many South Africans are struggling with inner and outer struggles. It's not just a matter of the national issues of transformation, there are inner issues of transformation which are needed and often we've avoided the inner issues and we've not paid enough attention to the outer issues actually or we've put the outer issues beyond the reach of ordinary people. It seems to me, just speaking very personally here, that when I look at myself, just in terms of my own desires for my development as a human being, I have to ask myself is this where I can do it best? Can I begin to be the best person that I can be within this context, within South Africa? And I have to look at what's going on in the broader areas of transformation in order to find an answer. I find it extremely difficult to do that because I'm not sure what's going on within the broader context. I tried to identify the issues but there is so much wordiness, we're all caught up, I'm caught up in this wordiness, into this attempting to understand exactly what's going on, to this diagnosis and analysis stuff. I think I'm a perfect example of a South African who's meant to be giving a lead but who's too caught up in the other stuff and we get bogged down in it and we're not really giving the lead that we should be giving, and that frightens me because I don't want to be in this position and I don't think that our leaders generally can afford to be in this kind of position. So it's a very personal self-judgement in a way.

POM     You gave an analogy, again during lunch, of a train leaving the station and the President inviting everybody on board and saying we're all going on a wonderful trip and everybody is clambering on board but some people have too much baggage to get through the door of the train and so the train stands at the station and you have Thabo Mbeki on the platform trying to pull some of the luggage off people's backs and shove them on the train and get the train off the station. Could you elaborate on that?

CJ     It's a kind of metaphor isn't it, an analogy really of SA over the last few years that here we were in a situation where we were a divided country and no common vision, no common purpose, no common destination as a nation and along comes an extraordinary human being in Nelson Mandela who makes it possible for this nation to begin to create a common destiny. We talk about being one nation, we hear it in our ads, we see it in our sport, this whole thing of nation-building, of becoming a new nation, this rainbow nation of blending of colours, all but one unity. Madiba has done an extraordinary job I think of giving both people inside of the country, generally speaking, and the world outside there, a sense that we have managed to create a common purpose. A lot of that has been around encouraging people, around motivating people, it's been motivational and people have bought into it and it's very much person centred, it's very much personality centred. We can trust Madiba, he's a great grand old man, he's just turned 80, he's everybody's grandfather. We have a national birthday party and, by God, we go beyond that, we have an international birthday party. Madiba is everybody's grandfather, lovely gentle man and he's the milkman you can trust. He's not the milkman who's going to steal your children away from you, as the saying went in this country, he's the black man you can trust. And that's been necessary but it hasn't done the job, it hasn't done the job which we need to do now, now, now, which justice demands for the people who have been cut out of this country's mainstream economic, social and every other possible way for generations here, centuries. It's not done the job for the poor. Things haven't happened for the poor. That's not to say it hasn't happened but it hasn't happened on the scale that it should have happened and could have happened because we've really been so under pressure as a nation to give the world their guarantees that we weren't in for retribution and retaliation for the sins of white people in the past. I think Madiba has really bent over whitewards in a way in order to appease and allay white fears across the planet, not just in SA. He's done that extraordinary successfully. It's a job that had to be done to some extent. I think we've overdone it.

POM     Many would argue, Colin, well to go back to Mbeki's speech on 4th June, just for you to comment on various statements that he made, he says there has been no progress towards reconciliation and by and large I would say, talking to white people, that that's my impression too that many like you for different reasons are more prone to say I'm thinking of emigrating for the first time, I think the TRC has become a one-sided witch-hunt, government seems incapable of delivering on the most basic of services, I don't think this is where I want to raise my children, if I can afford to I would get out. Certainly no sense of remorse regarding apartheid at all. It's like au contraire that you can't find a white person who ever heard of apartheid and when they hear about the atrocities at the TRC they're saying if we knew about those things of course we would have condemned them out of hand. So there is a denial going on, a resentment going on, but there is no reconciliation in terms of understanding the injustices that they perpetrated in the past. So I would agree with Mbeki. What do you think?

CJ     Mm, yes. Well I think so. I think it's not entirely true because I think if one looks round the streets of the country there's a kind of general sense in which that's not true but there's a more specific sense when one looks round the streets of our country. We see our children growing up, our children have taken the new SA for granted in a sense. My kids do. They grow up and have white friends and black friends and that's not an issue so there's a sense in which the reconciliation which has taken place is not with the past and present generations but in a sense with the future generations. We mustn't forget that, and I don't want to sound completely negative, but I think that our children are growing up in a racially more accepting country than I certainly grew up in or that my parents grew up in. There's a greater sense of equality, our kids grow up with a greater sense of assertiveness and a sense of being able to hold their own amongst kids of other races and that's not a bad thing.

     But for the present generation, and maybe we are the generation which needs to bear the brunt of the transformation, maybe we're going to have to because we're so much rooted in the past, it's through us that the catharsis has to happen, or else where does it happen? With who does it happen? We can't say it happened in the past because it was very much part of our present. So it's not just the past generations who suffered, who went to prison, who died and so on, it's also us, we have been very much part of that. There is so much stuff that we have to work through and work out as people who have lived with a foot in both the old SA and the new SA. We straddle those two and because we straddle the two we won't be able to walk with two feet in the one into the new SA and our kids will.

     So I think the angst that I express and the angst which other people are expressing is a natural one and we need to accept that we're going to have to be the people who pay the price. If there is no reconciliation it's going to be because no-one is prepared to pay the price for reconciliation. Desmond Tutu has said reconciliation is not without a price. There's a cost involved. Who is paying the price of reconciliation in this country? Speaking as a theologian, who is to pay the price? Are we saying the price has been paid by those who died before, those who suffered before? No. The reconciliation is happening now so the price has to be paid now and we're the people who have to pay it, hence the struggle, hence the pain that I go through and other people go through in this country and maybe that's right. Maybe that's what's got to happen.

POM     There has to be reparation.

CJ     Yes.

POM     And yet in the TRC, just looking at it from a completely material point of view, at most you qualify for R3000 if it is shown that a member of your family had been murdered, i.e. that there had been a gross violation of that person's human rights. You fill out a form, not one form, you fill out 15 forms and you qualify for R3000. That angers black people that I have talked to. They want reparation in terms of some kind of restorative justice rather than a payment of a cheque from a bureaucracy.

CJ     I can understand that but I don't think that anything that we do now is going to repay that, pay that price. I think that people actually pay the price. People caused apartheid, people will pay the price. It's a bit like taxes, you might not ever use a highway but you get to pay road tax somehow, you get to contribute through your paying of taxes for the use of things that you never get to use in this country. There are a lot of people who pay to have to do that, that's true the world over. I think that we're going to find that people are going to have to pay in this country in ways which - and I'm talking about black people too - having already paid the price of pain through the death and suffering of loved ones, and maybe even personally, who will continue to pay for years yet in this country. The attempt at trying to some extent make the pain less through the TRC I think is beginning to be seen for what it is, that it can't really, nothing can actually totally avert and avoid a nation having to pay, or people in a nation having to pay the price for reconciliation.

     I was listening to the radio this morning and there was a discussion with the Archbishop about some findings which have shown that the TRC has actually exacerbated reconciliation in the country rather than made it easier for people to reconcile because it seems to be witch-hunting people from a certain community. He made the point that the only way in which reconciliation can take place is when individual South Africans each say what am I prepared to do in order to help with reconciliation as an individual contribution which cumulatively helps to build a national mood of reconciliation. It's a very Christian thing to say, to begin with "Me, here am I Lord, let it begin with me." But there is an element of truth in that which I think we have to deal with and somehow we have not managed to hear that message in this country. We talk about whites and blacks and the masses, not about the individual.

POM     Doesn't that apply at a number of levels? Say number one, you have the whites of Sandton who say we won't pay this 250% increase in our property rates which is the only way one can in fact redistribute on a local level, so that doesn't show any consciousness of the past or of the need to make a more equitable and just society. You have trade unions, even the teachers' trade union, SADTU, which says we're going to call a nation-wide strike because of an agreement reached three years ago with the government, rather than getting a 6% increase we're going to get a 4.5% increase, so we're going to bring the whole school system to a stop and all temporary teachers must be permanently employed and to hell with the budget and to hell with what that does with any other priority, that's what we want. You have COSATU saying we're going to mass-mobilise and take industrial action unless our demands in certain ways are met. You have the National Union of Mineworkers whose workers trash ESCOM. I could go on and on and on and on, with each group or each grouping claiming the exclusivity of its right to something without any cohesion. It's like if I'm all right Jack then the problem is yours, I want to be all right, as long as I get what I want. There's no sense of sacrifice. The example I've used is, I've not been the first person who's used it, is of the South Koreans after the collapse of the economy with them going into the banks and handing in their jewellery and family possessions in order to help rebuild or restart the nation. One can't conceive of that happening here. Where is the social cohesiveness that makes people think that they're in a common purpose together and that the essence of that common purpose is sacrifice in this generation so that the next generation may be the beneficiaries?

CJ     The simple answer is I don't know. The very simple answer is it's probably because of a number of reasons and I can only speak, and here again one is very limited by the kind of contribution that I can make, I am very limited in what I can say because I speak so subjectively out of my own experience, but the fact that the churches for instance, the religious voice in this country, is by and large silent in terms of nation-building. After the 27th April 1994 the church's voice virtually went silent and with the exception of people like Desmond Tutu who got involved in the TRC there was no unified voice which sought to address the business of what it is to be human in this new nation, that I as a person had to do, could do in order to make a difference.

     Now if one thinks of the church's voice prior to the changes which began to take place here it's very clear that a voice was directed quite specifically at individuals in terms of what each person could do, to stand up and be counted and one felt personally addressed by the church and by the religious communities generally, those which participated in the struggle, to put one's weight together with other people's contributions. I think that's lost, one doesn't hear that. We're hearing about general things, about poverty and lifting of the African national debt, individual country, which is fine, I'm sure it's absolutely right but there's no voice which addresses people within the churches and within the religious communities of how we become, how we do the reconciliation.

     You can still go into churches, I am sure, throughout SA, we're talking about the church which Desmond led, which will be predominantly if not totally white on a Sunday morning. You can still go to churches which will be predominantly if not totally black on a Sunday morning and coloured on a Sunday morning, and Indian. The churches are still as divided and apartheid still lives, long live apartheid in the churches. I think it's the fact that we've not really ever addressed that. We've not been honest as a nation about where the divides really are. Maybe we've not understood the nature of the divides within our society and those divides still exist in communities where we would not expect it to, who haven't looked or haven't challenged. We still in the churches pay slave wages to church employees. We still in the churches treat people who work for the church as disposable people and can fire them and they have got no recourse. We still live outside of the values of the constitution of our country within the churches. It's that hypocrisy which helps to undermine the national fibre of our country and we're not addressing that, we're not being honest about where we really are and we've been allowed, and I don't blame the President for this, but the President is such an enormous figure, he's such a personality, that we've all managed to hide behind the glow and not to be, as it were, shown for what we are in the light of his personality. We've managed to hide behind it and we have blinded everybody to it and we blind ourselves to who we really are.

POM     Do you find this, and I would particularly address it in terms of the white community, of there being a stubborn refusal to accept that apartheid was evil and that everyone participated in it in some way either by keeping their mouth shut, by taking advantage of the benefits it conferred, by not looking around them and seeing what was so obviously going on around them? You can't have a black person arrested every three minutes for a violation of the pass law and a white person walk down the street and not see something happen. You can't not know about some of the tortures that take place. Leon Wessels I think said it best when he said we all knew in the cabinet what was going on, we all knew people were being tortured, we all knew they were being detained and yet there is no admission on behalf of white people as a whole about their complicity, direct or indirect, in that whole system. Rather what you get is this constant stream of complaints about the ineptitude of the black government and how standards have fallen and how crime has risen and how difficult life is for them, whereas they have somehow missed the entire point.

CJ     It's interesting you say that because I tend to agree, I do agree with everything you say. I've thought about this quite a lot and it seems to me that part of the problem is that because of SA's isolation and the isolation of the white community generally, they were not able to compare what they were enjoying against a kind of template of other nations. So for white people in SA what they were enjoying was the norm and while it is true, as you say, that it's very difficult to avoid having known about what was going on, many of them somehow managed to do that. I actually believe that they did, that you can live your life in such a way that you don't need to know what is going on even when it happens to people who work for you every day or live in your own house. Surely in those instances of where arrests took place in people's homes and where staff were taken out, they must have known that. I am talking about the vast number of whites out there who didn't care what happened to Lena or Tambo or God knows who after that person left the house and walked down the street, it wasn't their business, and the fact that they disappeared for two or three days, well they happened to be in prison, wasn't of any interest to them. They probably thought these people were just drunk or something.

     I don't think people often understand the nature of the SA society as to how it operated during apartheid in all these years. Let me put it this way, when white people from other countries come to SA and they see the standard of living in white communities here, they say, my God, you guys live like kings. We're not just talking about people who live in the real posh areas. I'm talking about people who live in ordinary suburbia. Ordinary suburbia here in SA, a place like Kenilworth or Claremont is ordinary suburbia by and large for many white people, and for people in Britain that would be very upper middle class, not ordinary suburbia. Ordinary suburbia lives in four up and sharing bathrooms, that's ordinary suburbia. People who are artists and writers and business people would live in that sort of situation.

     So we have a standard here which we have not been comparing with for many, many years. Now that that standard has dropped white people here are saying something is terribly wrong. Then they leave the country, go to a place like Britain, live in a third floor of a four apartment building and say, "God I can't live like this", and then come back and come and live somewhere like Table View where they have a small house and there are lots of other people but they've got their own piece of property and no-one living on top of their head.

     So what apartheid did was in a sense to deny people the ability to compare and so the comparisons which people now make can only be with their own past and not with other people's. The more SA begins to be exposed, more South Africans become exposed to the world out there, maybe the more realistic we will become about the standards that we were meant to enjoy here and that it's not our right to live the way in which white people have lived in this country and some black people have lived in this country for many, many generations.

     The question as to not knowing: the apartheid machine was incredibly powerful in terms of creating separate realities for people. I grew up in a coloured community, I lived between Langa, I lived in a place called Black River which is very close to Langa and Rondebosch. I lived right between that. I grew up as an adolescent in that community and spent a lot of my time, every day of my life in District Six and I was able to live my life in such a way that I never saw black people or white people. I travelled on a bus which was segregated so I never saw white people on the bus. I got off, went to a school which was segregated and I came home into a family which was by and large segregated. So you can live an entire life, and I can imagine white people doing the same and black people doing the same in this country. Apartheid was incredibly effective as a means of just denying other people's reality, incredibly powerful.

POM     I think it was Nadine Gordimer in an article she did years ago for the New York Times made the point of what she called 'psychological apartheid' and that society was so structured, the townships so placed that as a white person you could live your entire life without ever knowing how a black person lived.

CJ     You never needed to go there. Yes.

POM     It was like geographically arranged in that way so it never had to enter your consciousness because there was no consciousness.

CJ     Absolutely. I would agree entirely with her because I think it was only when I went to university and mixed with white students then, I mean there were other white people around I knew but very, very few, and we had no black friends whatsoever where I grew up. I never saw black people except on the occasional bus.

POM     When you say black you mean African?

CJ     I mean African black people. Even the bus which went to Langa and Guguletu and Nyanga, those buses left from a different bus terminus, we never had to go there. I sometimes travelled on the Langa bus because if it meant waiting 20 minutes for my bus to come it was easier travelling on the Langa bus and so in a way I was exposed to the reality there but I didn't know what these people endured. I didn't know about the pass system until 1960 as a ten year old when there was this great march and Sharpeville. I was living in Black River at the time and the people from Langa, the PAC led that march from Langa into the city and they walked past my house and I was ill in bed with mumps. I remember this very clearly when that great march took place and I remember the days afterwards with the armoured vehicles driving down the street from the military bases somewhere over there in the white areas driving past my house into the black areas and having this very confused struggle in my head, because I had this high temperature, high fever, and seeing all these people and seeing these army tanks and things driving up and down the street and wondering whether it was all really happening. That was my first, in that comatose state, my first exposure to what was going on there. That's the way SA was. I don't think people understand that.

     I try and now look back on it and ask myself, where was I really? Where was my family in all of that? How did it impact on us? The psychological stuff is so deep, it's so deep because I realise in my own family - I now understand as I look back at my family, at a grandmother who is half Irish, red haired and blue eyed and fair skinned, what the struggles were within my own family. As I was saying earlier, how we can get all this stuff out is going to be so crucial because the reconciliation and the catharsis that needs to happen, all these things happening at the same time. We haven't really understood the nature of our own disease yet, we haven't really understood it.

     The reason why I'm making a change in my own life, I want to write about my family. I want to look at my family as a family caught in the middle, as a coloured family with white family members, caught between a white suburb and a black suburb and trying to understand what it was that caused us to be so unconscious, how we became so inert in all of that because that story has got to be written. The stories about this country haven't really yet surfaced, not all the stories have surfaced yet. The TRC tell us some of the immediate stories of the gross atrocities of humanity but the slow insidious atrocity of becoming dehumanised through a system which divided people left, right and centre, through families, across communities, and made you so immune to another person's humanity. Those stories haven't yet been written. When we discover how inhuman we've been, not deliberately, but how less than human we've all been as a nation then only when we acknowledge that, I think, can we begin to explore truly caring about the other person's humanity. We don't really care, for God's sake, about whether other people have houses when you can go to your nice house. Why the heck worry about that when you're worrying about an increase in the percentage rate on your bond, another one going up? That's what people are worried about in the new SA. There's not enough national energy really pulled together.

POM     There's no bonding.

CJ     There's no bonding because we don't care because we're too concerned about our own stuff and too unconscious to our own stuff.

POM     If somebody, a leader of Mandela's immense stature, moral stature - ?

CJ     I love the thought that a man can have three wives and still be called moral at the end of it. I love the thought. I want to get that right. You can still be so immensely moral having been through three wives. I'm not making a joke of him.

POM     If somebody of his stature can't drive that message home, Thabo certainly can't because he doesn't have, not just the charisma or the persona, but the 'iconery' if you want to call it that, you referred to it before, iconery?

CJ     Yes, doesn't have the icon status. Maybe that's not such a bad thing, maybe we need to acknowledge that this isn't a one man job or one person, one woman job. This is a job nation-building, it takes a nation to build a nation, not one person to build a nation, and unless the nation gets down to nation-building there is no nation to build, no nation is going to get built. That's the paradox of that situation to me. One person can only call the nation to nationhood, but the job has to take place by the people of the nation.

POM     Then that is the job, in a way it becomes the job of civil society rather than the government which is increasingly going to be ANC dominated and probably become a little more authoritarian just because of the nature of it, being able to exercise power all the time.

CJ     Politicians aren't going to build nations, politicians have a different job to do. Don't ask me what it is, I just get on and pay my taxes.

POM     One of the few!

CJ     Maybe the business of government is, as has often been said, to create the space in which the business can actually take place, the business of whatever, nation-building can take place. The creation of the space is maybe the most difficult job to do in a way, it's not an easy job to do because you're always having to fight a rearguard action against other political parties and so on and one's own personal agendas and desire for power and fame and fortune and all of that stuff. Civil society has to also come to the table. I think we really do have to acknowledge that it isn't just government's job because government actually cannot do it and that it is our job and that what we need are leaders within each of the organs of civil society to begin to give the lead, like we had in the church with a person like Desmond. We need people in business to do the same, people in the arts to do the same, who will stand up, the world of people that are already writing or painting or acting out the contribution of artists and people of the faith and so on. Who are those people now? We don't see them. Maybe they can't come from my generation. Maybe we just have too much baggage. Maybe we have to skip a generation.

POM     When you talk about baggage it's like the baggage that people have who can't get on the train?

CJ     Yes. I'm going to have to ask the question of myself personally, what am I doing here? Why aren't I in the church? Why aren't I playing the role that maybe I could and should have done if I had stayed within the church?

POM     Why did you move from church to IDT to here, which are three very significant and powerful transitions?

CJ     I think it's about my delayed adolescence. I describe myself as going through my 'middle-escence' which is an acknowledgement that I've actually missed out on a whole chunk of life during my adolescence and the fact that I have been running away from my vocation for a long time and I have actually felt drawn to doing something else all those years I've been in the church and was just too cowardly to do it, I just was too afraid to do it because I knew that if I was to be true to that vocation it would have all the real elements of vocation on me, that's giving up everything for the love of this one thing. What I want to do with my life is very different from what I've actually done with it. I hid in the church in order not to write, so I could write little pieces, I could write sermons, I could speak and not be held down to a piece of writing ever. You know that feeling? Because writing for me is the most committed art, committed, it's not like a piece of acting or a great dance. It's like painting or writing, those two things, or sculpture, speak to me of leaving something there for other people to always look at and criticise or examine or draw meaning from.

     I have been afraid to do that with my life, to ever have to say what I have written, I have written and it stands because I like to move on. And yet there is stuff which I know has to be written which I only can write about, only I can write about my family, only I can write about our experience of being caught in the middle as a person neither white nor black in this country, seeking identity, seeking meaning and being in a situation where no meaning and no identity is something that you find yourself but something which is given you by a great outside force which you're not even aware of and living, as I think a lot of coloured people do, almost unconsciously and subconsciously and I want to explore that because I think that there's parallel there with a lot of what it is to be human, not just about what it is to be a person of particular designated race in SA. But I think a lot of people live life unconsciously and the only kind of life that makes a difference is conscious living, not unconscious living. So it's about coming to consciousness that I want to write about as a person, as an individual, as a person of a family, as a person of a community in which being unconscious was the accepted state of mind. That's why I'm here because I'm trying to move away from everything that keeps me from doing that and while Spier is a wonderful project it is also just a means for me to be freer to spend more time writing and exploring my own stuff. So it's a very selfish quest.

POM     Are you doing it?

CJ     Yes. At long last. There was a wonderful cartoon of these two erudite gentlemen at the turn of the century and one says to the other, "I'm writing a book", to which the other one replies, "Neither am I." So I'm tired of being the 'neither am I' person. I'm trying.

POM     Mbeki also talked about, he said, "There were two nations as divided as they ever were." He said that there was a collapse of moral values and the need for what he called a 'Moral Summit'. Has there been any greater collapse in moral values in the last several years than there was in the eighties or seventies or sixties? Because I assume when he says a collapse in moral values he's not just talking about the white community, he's talking about society as a whole.

CJ     It's a very interesting statement that because in some ways it could be argued that prior to the changes in this country we were a most immoral society anyway in which people's lives counted for nothing and that if you were black your life counted for nothing. Certainly the stories which come out through the TRC speak of a nation in which we were either immoral or amoral or unconscious to morality. And which is the worst state, the way we were or the way we are? I think that it's over-stating the case. I think that what's happened is that we've allowed a small bunch of brigands, it's not as if the whole nation is immoral, it's not as if we're all going round murdering each other, we've allowed for small but powerful groups to terrorise us in this country, the gangs, the vigilantes, the individuals who are taking advantage and seeking to line their pockets through corruption. But by and large the whole of the nation is not immoral. That's not where we are. I think a lot of people are crying out of a deep sense of morality for some order to be established and not to be held ransom and made a victim of the abuse of these small groups of brigands, as I call them.

POM     Let me ask you what in American terms would be called the $64,000 question, is you have a government of intelligent people, some of the ministers have immense talent. To the average person it is so obvious that crime and the inadequacy of the SAPS, the corruption in the SAPS, the lack of training, the lack of this, has gotten out of hand to an extent where it is poisoning all of society, where it is certainly, if you were abroad and you talk to people who would consider investing in SA, one of the reasons that would pop right into their mind why not to do so is the level of crime, and yet they seem paralysed in being able to take effective action. Why?

CJ     I think a number of reasons, and I throw them out as half-baked thoughts, I think the one has to do with the fact, we talked about this earlier, the fact that we have a constitution in this country which is so damned near perfect that we are almost imprisoned by the perfection of our own constitution, so you have to go absolutely by the letter of the law and of the constitution in order to make sure that what you do is constitutional. And everybody's got rights under the constitution, even crooks have rights it seems under the constitution. So we're being hoisted by our own petard in a way because of the nature of the constitution. I just throw that out as one idea, I don't necessarily feel at this point really able to explore it but it would be interesting to have legal minds and constitutional minds look at what a constitution of such breadth avails a country which is so, as it were, so new in terms of its own life and growth and which has a past like ours. Is it an appropriate constitution for a country like ours? It might be the best but is it appropriate, is the one question I would ask.

     The second is that I think, and related to that is this whole thing about consulting, the whole icon, the great god called consultation and the fact that this was a struggle won by and large by talks, and that's not in any way undermining the contribution of other factors like the armed struggle, but by and large South Africans talked into where it is at, we had talks about talks. We are that committed to talking that we will even talk about talking if needs be. This present interview is a wonderful example of how good we South Africans are at talking our heads off all the time. The fact that we can talk through a situation has created opportunities for people who are not as committed to talking but more committed to action whether it be evil action or good action, but particularly evil action, getting in there and doing what they want to while the rest of us are sitting around tables talking about the crime. We've talked about crime more than acted against crime. I think it's part of this government's legacy that it needs to move away from being a government which is committed to consultation and talking and be seen to be a government which is prepared at times to suspend the constitution. I would suggest that there have been times in this country when it has been necessary even to suspend the constitution in order to deal with the level of crime that has erupted in our country.

POM     So in a way is there what I might call an 'over-civil rights culture'.

CJ     We're still anxious to be seen to be right, to be doing it absolutely right, that we will not dare to be the bad cop. We don't want to be the bad cop, we don't want to be pointed out because we've got a saint running the country so we can't go messing around. Maybe when Madiba goes and Thabo comes in, maybe Thabo will smoke too much or maybe do something which we can point a finger at but make him a little more human so that we can be more practical as a nation and address some of these issues without wanting constantly to be so damned right and perfect. The thing that gets one is the growing feeling of if the state can't do anything or won't do anything, what the heck can I do? And you can see how people are driven to vigilantism in this country when you get driven to that point where in sheer desperation you have to take action yourself and that's not a good thing.

POM     But even vigilantism would in an odd way fit in with some sense of communal values, that if you had under tribal law decisions made by the people in consensus and decisions executed, whereas if the norms, I won't say the sterile norms, the legalistic norms of the judicial system are out of touch with the way people think and believe, both because of their history and tradition, there is bound to be a conflict between the two.

CJ     It's not a new story of course, the whole sort of Rambo image of the guy who goes out there and does things outside of the processes in order to get the job done because that's the job that has to be done and there's a sort of grudging admiration on the part of the people in the organised, institutionalised systems, let Rambo do it, sort of thing. I think it's a constant struggle that we have certainly in this century with governments which are based upon democratic principles and which have certain moral laws by which they abide and yet who get hamstrung by their own systems. But the other thing that drives people to vigilantism here is the fact that the people who become vigilantes are often those people who most live with the problem. You saw this with Pagad, it initially came out of those communities in which drugs and gangsterism were rife and people just could not raise their kids normally. There was a growing popular support for Pagad initially because people could identify with them and thought, well here at last is an opportunity for people to begin to assert their disgust and find a way of articulating how they felt. Then that got taken over by other elements.

     I think for ordinary people this growing feeling of total disempowerment that the government to whom they have given power is not acting on their behalf and that when they take the power into their own hands as a people living in a democracy then nothing comes of that or things turn sour on them. That's a very insidiously negative feeling within the country and we must find a way to turning that around, we must find a way of turning it around. We've seen attempts at doing that, Business Against Crime for instance where the business community has attempted to come into that but it's been the business community on its own not, for instance, looking at other communities like the religious community being part of that. It's too fragmented and the situation has grown way beyond any one community addressing it on its own. It has to be a united combined effort on the part of a whole lot of players in order to address the issues of crime. It's not just government's task, it's across the board.

POM     This goes back to, it would seem to me, the question of creating some kind of national cohesiveness which doesn't exist.

CJ     Yes. National cohesiveness - if it's going to be around a person it has to be a person who is a little less perfect than Madiba. Maybe Madiba's job was to give people a sense of belonging here but in a funny way, if you ask people now, people like me and other people out there, do you feel you're a South African? I would say yes, I'm a South African and in a sense I can say that with pride and then in another sense I have to say I'm also a South African who is very fearful about the future. I am a South African but I'm fearful about the future, I'm fearful that we're not showing enough purpose, we're not showing enough resolve, we're not showing enough ability to grab the issues by the neck which need to be grabbed at because we're not pulling together the right capacities and resources. In the end I think that is, I suppose one has to face it, that it is to some extent a large degree that is a critique of the leadership that we've got. It has to be a critique and that's part of the democratic process that we're allowed to criticise our leaders. We will have to change our leaders if need be, if they're not doing the job effectively.

POM     But it's not considered kosher to criticise, that's regarded as though you're some arm of the third force or you're out to undermine the ANC and show that blacks can't - there's a whole insidious minefield out there that to criticise is to be part of the other side that is still trying to undermine the state.

CJ     It's the Madiba factor that we've got. I really am convinced of it and I love the man like everybody else loves him but it's very unhealthy. The sooner he goes the better I think. The fact is, the irony is, that you go into parliament and you listen to the so-called opposition, not one of them would merely challenge the President in a way which would impugn his character or take him on, really take on the President because everybody loves him too much. It's like having a parent you love so much you can't tell him, Dad you screwed up, and that's the worst thing I think for any parent in a family as we know when our kids can't criticise us or when in a nation when we can't criticise our leader because we love him so much. It's not good for a country. It's not good in a democracy. Everybody should be open to scrutiny and criticism.

POM     So when he, Mandela, constantly makes the accusation that the press is white controlled and the press is out to destroy the ANC?

CJ     Look what happened there. That's what he said, the press kicked up a moan about that, decided to get some guts. He went and talked to the press and the press backed off by and large, they backed off. That's the amazing ability of the man and it's great if you're a priest or something but not when you're the President of a country I don't think. I don't think it's healthy for any democracy to have anybody who we deify to that extent. I hope that we've just done it once and we will never do it again. For democracy to be healthy it needs to have space and place to criticise everybody and to make everybody accountable and it's very hard to say that, it's treacherous to say that in this country. Madiba will even speak to the gangsters and he will tell them to go away and not be such naughty boys again or else, "'I will come after you." But they will go out and go and do their thing.

POM     But he won't talk to the UDM in Richmond. We talked this morning to Buthelezi about the parallel between the ANC and IFP in the eighties and the refusal then of the ANC to sit down with the IFP and in the end being compelled to. And yet with the UDM in Richmond they seem to be adopting the very same kind of attitude, that to talk to you will only increase your political stature which in a multi-party democracy is not a bad thing anyway, but he's ruled it out, categorically: there will  be no talking.

CJ     I wonder how much of that is personal, the fact that Madiba finds it very hard sometimes to deal with traitors and the fact that the dear General, Holomisa, has been less than loyal to Madiba and to the party after all that the party did for him, having welcomed him into its fold given his past and then goes off and literally stabs people in the back. I would suspect, and again I don't know the President well enough to be able to say this is his character, I'm not saying that, but I would suspect that that would really sit quite awkwardly with him.

POM     But that sat quite awkwardly with him with regard to Buthelezi after he came out of jail.

CJ     But I think - you go into parliament and you watch people like Buthelezi in parliament and you watch him in his personal relationship with the President and they are very, very - it's very warm and flattering and so on. And the fact that the President goes out to treat Buthelezi by leaving him with the whole nation in Buthelezi's hands must make Buthelezi feel somewhat loved and cared for. I'm trying not to be cynical about it but we mustn't ever lose out the personal elements in this, they are human beings too. Mandela is as human as the rest of us, he's not a saint, he's certainly not God, he's not Jesus' second brother who didn't get a mention in the gospel. He's a human being who has had successes and failures and who has been terrific in this country and is a model of many wonderful things and quite unique as a human being. But that doesn't necessarily make him a good leader. Lots of wonderful great human beings don't actually make things happen in a country and we could have done at times with a leader who was maybe more prepared to come down really, really hard on those elements in our society who have total disregard to human life and in communities where children are raped, where women are abused physically, violently abused, where whole communities are held to ransom by gangsters. One would have expected a real strong show of putting the country's resources to work in the defence of the innocent and the victims. We have not really seen that commitment, we have not seen it. Certainly in the Western Cape we have not seen it. We have not seen it in KwaZulu/Natal and the whole question as regards the commitment of the ANC to making things different for people in those two provinces has to be questioned. Whether it has to do with the fact that those are the two provinces are not run by the ANC is something which has to come to mind. Are we being used as a political tool here? Does the ANC want the Nationalists and Inkatha to screw up badly at the expense of people so that it can win votes in the next election? Those are some of the questions which people are asking and I think as a government which I look up to and vote for I want to be able to hear an answer from them and to see action which will allay my concerns in that regard.

POM     One last question, and thank you for all the time. By the time I get around to writing you will have finished all your writing.

CJ     I wish!

POM     This is the question of inequality, that the level of inequality in any real way between the haves and the have-nots has perhaps in many respects increased, not diminished in the last four years partly because of economic forces that are outside the country's capacity to constrain or to deal with, yet there has been no serious redistribution of income. Economic growth is going to be 1% this year, which means per capita income is going to decline for the first time in four or five years. So you have got this irony where Africa as a whole is growing at 4% or 5% a year and the engine of SA and the industrialised part of SA, the part of Africa that was supposed to provide the engine of growth for the rest of Africa, is not just stumbling but has stalled and has almost come to a standstill. How long can the inequities continue before they are seriously addressed? How can they be seriously addressed if the budget resources are so limited and the amount available for social welfare programmes so small that even if you took the whole budget and redistributed it in some fashion it wouldn't make a hell of a lot of difference to 19 or 20 million people. What does one do?

CJ     The irony is further complicated by the fact that in the last few years we have seen the listing of many, many black companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, many of them are companies which are formed on the basis of black empowerment. The question I would ask, I'm asking a question, the question is to what extent are we really seeing the positive impact of those listings on the Stock Exchange? While it is true that the gap is divided it is also true that we're seeing more and more and more black middle class and indeed black wealth being created in this country. We've got black millionaires, more than we've had in the past, more than one could have imagined there would be. And we're seeing at some level, we are seeing what I would call black enrichment rather than black empowerment because it's not a power which can be generated and flows through a community. Certain people are being enriched. The question has been raised as to what extent are those black companies really pushing back resources into black communities. How much of that is happening? We hold every white company to ransom when they do something and say well what are you doing in terms of supporting your local black community yourself? But the same question is hardly ever raised of black companies and I think we've got to start turning the screws on them.

     So in answer to your question I think it seems to me that, yes, the gap is widening. It seems to me too that while it's widening it is a matter of rich and poor rather than just pure black and white these days because you're finding increasingly, also interestingly, a growing number of whites joining the ranks of the really poor and destitute and we are seeing a number of blacks joining the ranks of the really rich and elite in this country. So while racism might be out of it now the economic divide is one which is a class one almost and we're going to have to address that with the same kind of - I wonder actually whether we will be able to address it with the same kind of resolve and the same kind of moral resolve that we addressed the divides between black and white. Maybe economic divides don't count for as much. We don't certainly seem to bother about it too much in other parts of the world, we let it happen and we actually aspire to it. I am afraid in my more cynical state, I think that we're going to go the way of the rest of the world eventually where, like in the USA, the underclass there are mostly black and Hispanic and so on.

POM     There are two phenomena, that is that within industrialised countries the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing not decreasing over time, and between the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere the gap between the two is increasing not decreasing. So it operates both within countries and across hemispheres.

CJ     It's interesting I think to see how the technological revolution is going to impact on that in terms of those who are info-rich and info-poor and how that coincides with the economic disparities and the racial disparities. In the so-called global village maybe there will be a global village but that global village will be sitting outside the global mega-city, or maybe a small city in which there is great, great wealth and the rest of us will live a kind of global village existence. Villages aren't renowned for being rich. The real rich will be sitting in the global city wherever that is.

POM     OK. Caroline?

CB     One question if you can spare the time. I'm quite interested in issues of the transforming of a police force and I see the rationale going into both the transformation of the police force and the defence forces, put aside the issue of protection of existing civil service positions and so on, but nevertheless you've got to maintain standards. You've got know-how and you can't just abandon that know-how, you can't just abolish the individuals who have been there, who have the know-how, you have to have an incremental drawing in of others to whom it can be happily transferred. But given some of the things that we've said here already, that crime is still extraordinarily high, it's maybe shifting its area to new and horrific areas. It's not being dealt with by the police, the standards seem to be falling nevertheless but there seems to be an incompetence. Does that say that in fact looking back now it would have been better to take a more abolitionist approach, that the one thing that underpinned not taking that approach, the key thing was to maintain standards if standards haven't been maintained, then looking back it would have been better just to do away with it and deal with the incompetence of the new coming in?

CJ     The question of standards has to be around what was the standard in the old police force and the standard in the old SA Police was if a guy is black he's a criminal, if he's political he's a communist and we know how to deal with those guys. Dealing with regular crime, it seems to me, was something which they weren't terribly strong on except in protecting certain people's property. The question of how skilled and what sort of resources resided within the police force is one which I don't know if anyone has really looked at. What sort of skills were we thinking of retaining and building on? I don't know what's happened in terms of doing that with the police force.

     But the other point about crime I want to make is that democracy in SA has opened up opportunity, or the possibility of opportunity to everyone including criminals and given the fact that so many people for whom democracy was intended, namely the poor, are unable to take advantage of those opportunities it seems to be that the criminals have just cashed in on the vacuum of unoccupied territory, they have almost gone in and behaved like squatters and taken over that which rightfully belongs to other people. The economic opportunity has been taken over by gangsters in communities because the poor have been totally hamstrung and have not been given the resources with which to make the best of the opportunities.

     The police also have a tough job there. It's a bit like having opened the gates. I feel a little bit like this now, I didn't feel like this earlier on. I was very excited in 1994 about the immense opportunity out there but in order to capitalise an opportunity you have to have some resources. If the sea is full of fish it means absolutely sweet Fanny Adams to you if you don't have a net or a boat to get there. For the guys who have got boats that's great but if someone is chopping down a poor guy's trees and  building a boat and the poor guy just can't defend himself against the guy chopping down his trees, it's that sort of analogy that I think we're talking about here. The police have never really been used, and maybe I'm being simplistic here, but I think that there is a sense in which the police have to be seen as a tool, as an organ, as a weapon corporately and put to use. That's what the previous government did. They put them to use as - here you are, this is what you have to do, go and do it and we will train you to do that. This government hasn't really used the police in that way because I think it's its own reticence at being seen to be replicating too much of the past and being identified too much with the former government's way of using organs of the state. I don't know what it is.

CB     Maybe the standards that they did have then were in an area that's simply not relevant.

CB     Well that could well be but were they totally beyond retraining? It's argued now that some of the kind of tactics and skills of the police then are what we need now. They were able to find out who the instigators were of marches and God knows what and had a very fine underground working there and they were able to go and hit guys hard. Why can't they do that now?

POM     It was regarded as one of the most ruthlessly efficient police forces in the world.

CJ     Absolutely.

POM     You've gone to one of the most rootless, inefficient, inept police forces.

CJ     The question I ask is what's wrong? Where did that go wrong? Is it with the police force or is it at the top? And when you talk to the police, the Minister of Police, he waffles on about generalities, high sounding, nice sounding, right sounding stuff and I am tired of being so right when everything's so wrong.

CB     Thank you.

POM     Next time I come back I expect somebody else will have finished a book. Every time I come back somebody has finished a book.

CJ     If it's after October I should have finished it.

POM     You will have it by October?

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.