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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

18 Aug 1998: Irvine, George

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POM     First of all, congratulations on your well-deserved elevation.

GI     Well, as you know, I stood down as Bishop in the Eastern Cape because we were electing a black Bishop, which was time to do that. I came to Durban and was here for five years in a parish and then they put me back in again. But I'm only in for three years, that's the good news, and then we've already elected my successor and she will be the first woman Bishop in Southern Africa and she's black. That's interesting.

POM     That's marvellous.

GI     So I'm the first Bishop to stand down for a black woman Bishop.

POM     Tell me, as you review the last several years, what are the dominant impressions that come to your mind as you reflect on what the new SA is and where the new SA is going?

GI     I think we've had to move from an 'against' mode where we were against apartheid and against the Nationalist government. Two, a mode of asking how we're going to build this new SA and I think that has been a distinct change for many of us. One of the differences, dramatic differences, I think, is that now when we work for reconciliation and we work for people finding each other we're no longer getting arrested for that, the police are no longer taking photographs of us at events like that and that has been a remarkable difference. But at the same time we need to talk about the immense number of issues now facing this country as we try to get some sense into the situation.

     Let me talk about three things. First of all education. There has been an amazing lack of support for black education with the apartheid years. I've forgotten what the figure was, Padraig, but it would be like three rand for a black child as against sixty rand for a white child. I don't have those accurate figures. And now we're trying very hard to catch up and this has led to monumental problems and it has also led to almost a mushrooming of private schools made up of teachers who have maybe taken a package or become dissatisfied with the present education system and they are forming schools. I was at a meeting yesterday and the number of private schools - we don't actually know because some of them maybe are operating without being registered even though it's against the law to do so, but the present number is about 550. Now when I talk about private schools I'm not talking about old established private schools with playing fields and a swimming pool and all that. I'm talking about schools that are suddenly mushrooming in the centre of the city.

POM     The 550 would be in just this area?

GI     No, 550, so far as we know, in SA. And so they are opening up in the centre of Johannesburg and the centre of Durban, in Pietermaritzburg, and we're calling these the new private schools. The meeting I was at yesterday was a meeting of independent schools with the experience to ask how can they facilitate the new private schools and help them in a resourceful way to do the best they can. So education is a big factor. Another big factor is health.

POM     But are the new private schools, again, for whites only?

GI     No, most of them are black.

POM     Are black?

GI     Yes. In fact black parents are making considerable sacrifices to get their children into private schools. We have one, for instance, in Pinetown called the John Wesley School and we've just received two million rand from the Anglo-American/De Beers for the extensions of our boarding establishment and we have about 250 children and it's all black, no white children at all. So, yes, they are by no means only for white privileged. I mean the white privileged people can afford to send their children to the old private schools like Kearsney, or St Andrews, or Kingswood, but these new private schools are trying to cater for a different kind of person. So that's a big factor and that could be devolved. You need to ask some questions about education as you go around.

     The second big area, of course, is health. When only the white population was really adequately cared for health-wise, you can imagine what it does to the whole economy when you say things like now the whole population need to benefit from the health operations in the country. That has led to lots of cuts and some very difficult situations of provinces having to cut back on grants to hospitals and the closure of wards and all that kind of thing. It's something we're trying to address at the moment.

     One of the issues also, I think, in health and others is the amount of corruption. It's always been there but we're beginning to discover an alarming amount of corruption and money going down the drain through sheer dishonesty and finickery.

     The other major issue is poverty because there are many people still living in the shacks and the elections of 1994 have not made a significant difference to the lives these people live.

     Now for all that I want to speak very highly of the work of the TRC. Some people will not agree with me, they would say that that was a futile exercise but I don't think so. I think it has brought to the fore an enormous number of examples of reconciliation being able to take place between the victim or the victim's family and the perpetrators and that has been an interesting thing to watch and to be part of over the last few years.

POM     Yet most opinion surveys would say that the degree of polarisation between the races as a result of the TRC is greater now than before.

GI     I'm not sure about that. Obviously if that's the investigation result then that's the result, but I'm not sure about that. I am amazed at the goodwill that still exists among many blacks in terms of finding a new SA. I mean if I had been in their position with what came out at the TRC I would be inclined to say, kill all the whites, we can't have this. But there is an amazing amount of goodwill out there, millions of black people are still trying to make it a good country. I think the TRC has helped in that field. I have a sense, and I've no proof of this, that if SA had had a TRC after the Boer War the history of SA could have been different, and I think our history is going to be different because of the TRC. Yes, there is a polarisation. Yes, there is the rising crime rate. The crime rate has always been there but it's spilled over now into so-called white areas which weren't used to this kind of thing. I don't know whether you remember but in some towns, especially in the platteland there was always a curfew so that all blacks had to be indoors by a certain time. So the criminality has grown enormously. I was in, last week or the week before, I was in Richmond.

POM     I was there this weekend, spent four days there.

GI     You can sense what's going on there. Now that they've closed down the police station I wonder if that is going to help.

POM     But they haven't. After reading it in the newspapers -

GI     It was going to be a branch office to Pietermaritzburg.

POM     Yes, but the doors are open and there are still local police as of Sunday evening.

GI     Local guys still? They haven't been moved? Oh my goodness me, because the television pictures showed them all walking out the door, being moved, either being offered a retrenchment package -

POM     It seems now that part of the package is if they want to work back in Richmond again they can.

GI     Goodness. Maybe it's used to the police trying to

POM     I had this little encounter with the new Commissioner, who was very helpful, everyone was very helpful on every side, again, presenting their side of the story. On Sunday afternoon I had gone by the police station again to check, because it had been open on Saturday and Friday, let me check it on Sunday and I met the new Commissioner on his way in. I said, "Commissioner, I thought this place was closed." He said, "Well it's closed but it's now a community service centre." But in fact the doors were open and the flag was flying and inside there were local policeman.

GI     Goodness gracious! So that's interesting. You're saying that it hasn't closed.

POM     Maybe there were just - there had been a huge new movement of particularly SANDF personnel into the area and there were roadblocks. I went out with the police one night and went through Ndaleni and there was what one would call at one level a very massive police presence in terms of motor cycle units and horse units in the roads but one didn't know whether it was a show being put on but there were roadblocks all over the place. I must say it's a dubious strategy, that the Commissioner believes that the community must regain confidence in the police and therefore there must be a more visible police presence and the police must be friendly and a lot of the new people they have brought in don't speak Zulu so they have a problem with communication. Two, my experience from just Northern Ireland is no matter when you're stopped by a policeman, even if he just wants to see your registration and says, "Good day sir, and where are you going and where are you coming from?" you don't go away with a better feeling about the police. You go away feeling just a little bit angered about having to be stopped. So I don't know whether this kind of strategy will build the kind of confidence that he assumes it will build. But that's another story. What's your analysis of what's (i) behind the violence, the brutality of it, the sheer brutality of it, (ii) is it political or is it as the ANC says purely criminal? And there I find myself at odds with the ANC's decision not to sit down with UDM on the grounds that (it would give them recognition).

GI     To be very honest with you I don't know the answer to that question. If it is criminal elements it must be backed up by political differences. It was interesting that when Nkabinde was in jail, I'm not saying that he's the only player, but when he was in jail the number of killings dropped dramatically. When he came out something else happened and the killings continued. I don't know whether you saw this but the Mail & Guardian suggested that the government call a state of emergency. Now we are very wary of that because of our experience in the past with states of emergency which usually were brought into being to suit the government's present policy. But having said that, I still think there is a place for that so long as it's well organised and organised in consultation with the leaders of the community, all communities, because I think people are being allowed to get away with too much. I think there needs to be more control in that situation. People have just gone wild. When I went to the family it was unbelievable that nine of them could have been murdered in one drive. I just couldn't understand why that happened. I don't know whether you've been to the house, but they're out in the sticks you know and what on earth they went out there to shoot up people for I don't know.  All I know is that there was a wedding celebration, and whether this was an old dispute over who's getting married to who and someone who maybe wanted to marry the girl who was getting married to someone else, I don't know, but it turned into mayhem. It looks to me too consistent not to be organised. I cannot see ordinary criminality which breaks out in spurts really answering why in Richmond. It's too concentrated I think, Padraig, it's too organised.

POM     But one thing that has struck me looking at it - I was going around, as I said, with the police in one of these huge trucks, one of these Casspir things, but they could hardly navigate, what weren't roads were just kind of hills and lanes and whatever; that it would seem that whoever carried out the murders is someone very familiar with the area.

GI     Absolutely.

POM     Two, that they come in on foot and they go out on foot . They don't drive in over these 'not roads'.

GI     Right. There's no doubt about that. So I am saying I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. I really don't know. There are a couple of ideas out there now, Padraig.  Whether the ideas are true or false, some of the black men were saying, that what was happening at Richmond was a perfectioning or making good, a way of destabilising the community and when that was done effectively in Richmond it would move elsewhere, a kind of destabilisation tool for the whole country, trying it out in Richmond and seeing how it worked there and moving on. Also there seems to be in some black people's minds that Richmond is being targeted for the news coverage in a way that's difficult to understand because more people have died in other places and that hasn't received the publicity that Richmond has. So they're asking questions like up in the Greytown area, for instance, in KZN, there have been more killings in that area than in Richmond and yet that never hit the headlines. So they're asking why Richmond? Is it because the UDM is trying to come to some kind of prominence? Is that the reason? Is it a political thing in the sense that the ANC has to flex its muscles and show itself to be more powerful than the UDM? But we don't know the answer to any of those questions.

POM     I asked a couple of Nkabinde's loyal supporters, now members of the UDM, where their loyalty was, was it to Nkabinde or was it to the UDM, and the answer in every case came back that it was with Nkabinde.

GI     I'm sure that's right. Nkabinde has a large following.

POM     I interviewed him for an hour and he was very impressive. He was forthcoming, non-evasive and would not go so far as - whereas the ANC were more inclined to put the finger of blame directly on him and the UDM he was not prepared to put the finger of blame directly on the ANC, excepting that there was conflict between two organisations and they should sit down and talk, which seemed to me, and those who were with me, to make eminent sense. I fail to see that by sitting down with somebody you're not admitting that you're participating in a series of murders, you're saying we've a problem here and we should be working at it together, not at loggerheads, [especially since the ANC is saying, as somebody here was saying to the NP ... at some point]. Do you think it's symptomatic of what may happen in the run up to the next elections?

GI     Padraig, I am certainly hoping not. The Council of Churches and the KZN Church Leaders' Group, and organisations like PAXA in Pietermaritzburg, were looking at that whole thing very carefully. In fact we are hoping to be able to get monitors and things out here like we did for the 1994 elections and we are hoping to do some voter education as well to see if we can possibly cut down the chances of violence at the election. Because it has the potential for blowing up around us, but it also has the potential for being reasonably peaceful. If it's being destabilised in Richmond as part of a plan to destabilise other areas then we're in for a terrible time. But I am hoping that's wrong and I am hoping that the destabilisation in Richmond is simply due to the political criminal elements, but I don't know.

POM     Is this destabilisation part of the agenda of this amorphous third force?

GI     It obviously would if there was such a thing in existence. But then you have to ask, who is the third force? We don't even know that. All I know is, for instance, that we had to have two services of Eucharist or Communion, one in Ndaleni and one in Magoda, because the Magoda people couldn't come to Ndaleni and the Ndaleni people couldn't go to Magoda without fear of being shot and killed. So the political reality is to have two services. In fact the local Minister there wouldn't let us go, even though we were running late, without having two services because his life would not have been worth living if you had one in Ndaleni and not in Magoda. So that's how it is, and both are Methodist churches by the way, not even mixed congregations of Anglicans and Methodists. Both Methodist churches belonging in the same diocese, belonging in the same circuit even, which is a smaller part of a diocese and yet they couldn't meet together. Now that says something to me about the political dimension in Richmond.

POM     Thabo Mbeki in that speech he gave on 4th June talked about the collapse of moral values and called for some kind of Moral Summit and then the federation of the churches here came out and made a statement that was very, very similar. Is the collapse in moral values, can it be laid at the feet of apartheid or must the country now get to a point of saying we can't continually talk about the legacy of apartheid as being the accountable or responsible agent for every form or aspect of behaviour, we have to become accountable ourselves? Has that slide in values continued since 1994?

GI     Absolutely. I think there are certain things like health and education and the poverty thing which are an over-throw from the apartheid era. But you cannot blame the apartheid era for lack of morals and for a breakdown in behaviour. You can't blame that because ultimately we have to take responsibility for moving on today.

POM     So what's happened?

GI     I'm not sure, you would know more about this than I, they tell me when you change a system of taking your foot off someone's neck, almost the old Hegelian dialectic thing, you move from synthesis into antithesis and it takes a while before you can settle in the synthesis. And there's something of that about it as well. You know, the end of the apartheid government, the end of oppression, etc. I think it's natural within the dynamic of the community to go to the other extreme and I think we've headed in that direction but we have to come back to the centre and see in fact where we're going as a nation.

POM     Does it trouble you that despite the fact that the government recognises the pervasiveness of crime, not just the impact of crime on people but the impact it has on the image of the country abroad and it's being an impediment to foreign investment, that it still hasn't got a handle on the situation. The violence of crime, crimes of violence, murder, rape, child molestation are all on the increase, that the criminal justice system - I know that in the US if you are convicted of rape you go for life, that's it. You might get parole after 40 years. Here you're convicted of rape and you get a six year sentence. Is there a contempt for human life, an inherent kind of disrespect for it? I'm trying to work out that if that's true how does it fit in with what Archbishop Tutu always refers to as 'the spirit of ubuntu' and 'the spirit of generosity' of the African people? The two seem to be two contrary forces at work, so to speak.

GI     I think that's true. Sometimes the picture comes to my mind of the child who has been controlled, suddenly let go, and that child really plays merry hell until they come to their senses and begin to relate as an adult. In some ways there's like a lot of children, I'm not talking about age now, but there are very rebellious children out there and they're just creating total havoc and they almost seem to be enjoying it in some ways. Now the government, I think, is almost frightened to take a strong line because they're trying not to be like the Nationalists, but they must take control. They've got to make a lot of things different, Padraig. They've got to - for instance the punishment of the criminal, I am not one of those who would want to reintroduce the death penalty but death has got to be (punished) because criminals are not really frightened of the courts any more.

POM     Even their chances of being caught are so slim.

GI     Right, and also when they get to court the jails are overcrowded and they know that they're not going away for long and you almost need, right now, a kind of benign dictatorship which says freedom hasn't taught us how to behave properly, so we're going to fix you if you don't behave properly and we're not going to allow lawlessness to reign. Even if we look like the old masters of apartheid we're still going to put in place a state of emergency. Now it's going to be different, we're not going to be using it for our political ends but we're going to stop you killing each other and we're going to do it in consultation with the community leaders so that the SANDF and the police can't run amok but we're going to take our authority very seriously. That's not what's happening. Even the IFP, for instance, you get a guy like Powell, and I don't trust Powell, Phillip Powell, I don't know whether you've talked to him. He runs round with guns all over him and no-one has taken him to task, not even the IFP. So there seems to be a reluctance, if you call the government the parents of the children, and that's a bad analogy, there seems to be a reluctance in the parents to discipline the children who are now running amok.

POM     I just came from seeing somebody who said, in a way, something very similar to what you said and he said that the problem was that what you had was a perfect constitution. It's a constitution made for heaven, not a constitution made for people. That there are so many protections built in for everything, with so many checks and balances in terms of being able to appeal to the courts about everything and do this and that, it had paralysed the government from doing anything and any time it tries to do something the party that feels it's grieved it goes to the courts and says my constitutional rights take precedence over everything, and the government does not want to be seen to be over-riding the constitution. Two, you have this human rights culture that the rights culture dominates everything to the exclusion of things like you may have to install a state of emergency, you may have to take harsh orders that the implementation of order for a society which begins to collapse takes precedence over an individual right. It's not an absolute.

GI     That's right. I think I would agree. I quite agree. But I think I would go on to say that taking control and having a state of emergency and being very strong on criminality is in no way anti-constitution, no way. In other words I don't think we need to change the constitution to give the police and the army and the government the right to rule. Even in Ireland right now they're talking about bringing back -

POM     Detention without trial.

GI     Yes. And you see because the Nats did it so badly in terms of the wrong political agenda, the government is almost frightened to do anything lest they look like the Nats. But I am saying to the government, rule, whatever is necessary to stop killing each other you must do. And if anybody takes you to the Constitutional Court then you've got to be wise enough when you need special powers and you must take those special powers without feeling guilty. We can't as a church inculcate moral values if the criminals are not being punished because, I hate to say this, there has to be as well as an encouragement to live the right way in terms of being open and gracious and being a good person, you also have to let people know that if they don't do that there's a tab they have to pick up. At the moment I don't think the criminals know that there's a tab to be picked up. I think they're out there just making mayhem and I also think it's a planned thing. I think they're using young people for their criminality because they know the courts are soft on a 17-year old or a 16-year old, but there's somebody behind it. I mean the killing of that nun up in Eshowe, you remember the two kids who were arrested, 17 and 20 something. Those kids, I think, are being used by someone else. And so it's a field day for criminals. You don't have to open a business, you can just start a criminal business and there's plenty of poor people out there prepared to work for you if you're prepared to pay them. I'm afraid that we have lost, mostly lost, any conception that crime doesn't pay. I think the mood out there is saying crime does pay. That's my sense. I hope I'm wrong.

POM     I think what disturbs me is that you talk to senior police personnel in Pretoria or whatever and they will say, no, no, we're getting a handle on it, we've all these plans and special units and special this and special that. It seems as though they're out of touch with not just the reality on the street, the very real fear that exists in all communities across the board where it immobilises people and reduces the quality of their life to nothing. I remember talking to one family that I interview and the husband works in Norwood outside Johannesburg and he stays an extra hour because if he leaves at a certain hour he thinks he's more vulnerable to being hijacked and when he leaves the office he rings his wife and says, "I'm leaving now", and that means in 15 minutes by the straight run be ready to open the gates when I get there so I don't even have to sit in my car and press my button. A good friend of mine, Ronnie Bethlehem, was killed when he was just waiting for his door to open, and they rush in and they pull down the gate and they're safe for another day behind their closed quarters. There's no police presence in the townships, no redeployment of resources.

GI     Absolutely. People will talk to you about this but there's also a culture of entitlement out there, we're entitled to this and this and this. And while that is true for many, they are entitled to certain things, but what goes wrong with it is that they feel the right then to take it whether it's up for it or not. I think one of the difficulties about feeling oppressed, and I'm not pretending that they're not oppressed, there are oppressed people out there still, I think when you feel that way, you're being done in, then you are probably going to get into behaviour and a response to that feeling which could lead to criminality. If that's how they're going to treat me then, bugger it, I'm going to show them that I can respond in a way that's destructive. That's my worry. My sense is that the ANC is going to try and take control after the next election. That's my sense.

POM     Take control?

GI     Of the whole situation. That's my sense in SA. And it will also take control politically I think. That's why they're hoping to get the percentage vote so they don't need to -

POM     Two thirds?

GI     Yes. It's interesting, I'm sure you've heard this, that in their NEC they decided that the ANC shall appoint the provincial Premiers. What the people can appoint is the provincial head of the ANC, the people can vote for that and if it happens to be the same person as the provincial Premier so be it but it doesn't need to be. Now that's going back to the provinces for conversation. Now here is a sense of centralisation which goes totally against what they've been talking about in terms of the provinces taking responsibility for their own debts and for how they administer their budgets. There seems to be a desire in the government to pull things back to a significant central core. And I think that's probably going to be more and more the case.

POM     So in a way you're saying that your sense is that there will be less democracy in the future rather than more?

GI     I think so. And there's part of me saying if that is necessary to get the crime level down, then go for it. There's another part of me saying, hey, there's got to be a way of getting this down, of punishing the criminals, without going back into a dictatorship. Surely there's enough power out there in the law of the land and the courts to be able to cope with this? But it's an interesting country to live in at the moment! I need to be going to another meeting.

POM     Thank you.

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.