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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

23 Aug 1998: Malan, Wynand

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POM     Mr Malan, we have just been talking about the west's failure to really understand Africa and its tribal structures, its modus operandi and that you think it might take up to perhaps fifty years for democracy to - when we talk about democracy are we talking about the western concept of democracy? Is that a problem that the west keeps insisting on, that it has some ideal form of democracy that other parts of the world must follow without taking into account the things you've talked about, local traditions, tribal structures?

WM     Hierarchies. Yes, if I talk about the west I'm not talking about the west geographically but I'm talking about a specific value system operating which is western democracy. It's a failure also in SA amongst the so-called liberal sort to really appreciate also the positive in hierarchical structures and traditionalism. It's really a way of thinking.

POM     When you say a failure among liberal thought here, that would be in a way the - ?

WM     Call it first world thought for lack of - Democratic Party, National Party and maybe here and there also some of the individuals within ANC. For lack of a better common denominator let's talk about first world values so to speak, the concept of western democracy. If you are born into an organism which is dependent on the acknowledgement of its hierarchy, of its structures, of its custom where leadership is determined by blood, then it's one hell of a paradigm shift needed to accept democratic processes and procedures, democratic in a western concept again, European concept, whatever one wants to refer to it as. By definition to tribal structures democracy is a threat, it's destabilising. Really I have a very strong belief that systems follow value systems. Of course there is an interaction but if your value system is traditional then it's impossible to even debate concepts of democracy let alone expect people to live it. And that is not to look down upon traditional structures, it's simply that is what has been operating, what works for them. To the extent that it's stable and that it is healthy, that's fine. It's really in the meeting point between traditional societies and more advanced democratic societies or even absolute thinking in societies where you find the clashes and the conflicts. Then Africa, for very long Africa has not been exposed to western concepts of government, of state. To the extent that colonialism did expose them to westerners, like apartheid closed everything to people moving through value systems so did colonialism. People disrupted, Europe disrupted Africa but never gave Africa access to its structures and way of thinking. In the same way apartheid disrupted healthy societies, black societies, indigenous societies, but never gave it access really to participate on its own.

POM     So if you put that in the context of SA after its first four years of 'experimentation' with democracy, what would you say are the failures of democracy here?

WM     I think SA is doing extremely well, exceptionally well. Firstly apartheid did erode over years, colonialism eroded. Apartheid could not maintain the same distance between European thinking and African ways of life as did colonialism. Apartheid could not maintain the same level of separation of societies that colonialism did so there was an induction, so to speak, and a limited flow or access. If one could use the metaphor of a rivulet or a stream, apartheid tried to build dam walls in this rivulet obstructing flow in a sense but the build-up of pressure took walls away, for new walls to be built. So in that sense SA has had much more of an exposure of traditional and first world thinking towards each other and within the present government there is almost a gut understanding of this. If you look at the constitution, which is really very, very modern, if not post-modern, it still acknowledges traditional structures. At the same time we have the bill of rights in our constitution but there is an acknowledgement both ways, at least political, which makes it possible to manage this. The question is whether our judicial system, and especially our Constitutional Court will have the wisdom to keep on managing it on this basis or whether they would shift, in a sense obstructing the flow, and the mutual influence by taking a more dogmatic line on human rights, wanting to compare it with Canada or some of the other modern democratic systems.

POM     Two comments on that, one is maybe semi-heretical, but it has struck me over the years that if SA had been a traditional colonial society where the colonial power withdrew as in, say, Mozambique or Angola, it might have been left in a much more unstable situation, whereas apartheid in a sense created some kind of structures that were taking off points for knocking those structures down but putting other structures in its place. It was used to that, having institutions even if they were bad institutions. That was one. And two, I have heard this from a number of people that part of the problem in the country at the moment is that the constitution is too good, it's too perfect. It was written for a perfect society, not for a third world society and insofar as that goes it paralyses government, inhibits things from getting done rather than facilitating things getting done. It's like every time one has a grievance one runs right off - it's become more American than America, you head right for the courts and everyone thinks that the courts start becoming the instrument through which policy is made, not the legislature.

WM     I could have said that but as you say it, it is semi-heretical and it is not something that one can discuss in a simplex environment. It's really a very complex issue. It's not necessarily bad. I'm not arguing for a state structure which is tribal. The question is, again, what is the level of openness? What is the potential for flow and interaction and continued interaction? Because people respond to their environment. Their thinking is determined by the environment within which they live. In that sense apartheid did, as bad as it was and as much as it had been denying what we would call basic human rights, in a sense it did bide time. It's not to say apartheid was good but even from bad policy it could on occasion, totally unexpectedly, derive some good. So I am not claiming this as some of the good that apartheid did bring about but in the sense again I'm a bit of an heretic myself. Personally I prefer not to take, at least today, not to take any more dogmatic lines or absolute lines. I prefer the heaven of ill intentions to the hell of good intentions. So it's a very much an approach of acceptance of reality, what works to the good. It's a bit of a utilitarian ethic.

POM     Like good intentions produce randomised results, not the intended results.

WM     And the obverse is also true. That's really the point I'm making. And one needs not even look at intentions but simply at results flowing from policies whatever the intentions. I am pretty sure that there were people who had under apartheid, or separate development, I'm not talking of the fifties necessarily because that was certainly looking at one sector of society only, forties and fifties, but if one looks at the approach of the Verwoerd as ideologically unsound as it indeed proved to be, I am not prepared to accept that everyone had ill intentions. I'm pretty sure that for very many, including myself at the time, this was a way out of a moral dilemma without in the slightest foreseeing the more negative deriving from what was understood to be morally based policy. But again it was ideology, it was dogma of a kind. I have long left any doubt in my own morality.

POM     If you take this and you superimpose it on the TRC, how would you evaluate the TRC (i) in terms of what its mandate was by legislation, (ii) in terms of the 'unintended' spin-offs there have been and (iii) in terms of whether it has substantially achieved or is on its way to achieving or laying the groundwork to achieving its objectives of truth, justice and, more importantly I suppose, reconciliation?

WM     This really requires a long answer. Let me first say that I think originally if you look at the Act, at the legislation itself, it's in a way a deal, I wouldn't even want to call it a compromise but it's an input of feeling of gut from different parties which had to be reduced to wording. The most positive, and I think I observed on this last time when we met, is what was initially intended to assist in getting to the truth, allowed for a process of reclaiming dignity, of reclaiming humanity through victims simply giving their stories. It would be an overstatement to call it evidence because it wasn't tested, we never intended to test it. It was an opportunity to clear and clean and restore, in a sense, the individual. So it's accepted that truth derived from those stories measured by individual testimony is not a scientific truth, it's a kind of memory and collective memory. It was very healthy in terms of the healing part, in terms of the restoration of individuals.

POM     Is that between individuals as distinct from between -

WM     Not even between, I'm not talking between. I'm talking about the healing of victims, of people who lost their dignity, their individuality, or even their role, if you would talk traditional systems, where the individual is not the ... but the organism, the community, the structure. That reintegration process is very, very important. I don't know whether I mentioned this to you but I had the distinct sense at some stage that victims move in almost in a foetus position, they share their stories and at the end of it they get up and they walk straight and tall. They are born or reborn. They feel themselves with a role again or their dignity restored, notice having been taken. That was an immense experience which I did not foresee to have such a powerful effect on me when we talked process. That's the one thing that must never be under-estimated.

     As far as reconciliation is concerned, the downside of it that by far the majority, and especially at the level of leadership, when they talked about reconciliation it was, again, a separate almost incident that they expected. It was within a religious paradigm of confession and forgiveness which is something which I didn't share from the start in the process and the longer the process went the more it became clear to me that that is a wholly wrong approach especially because the concept of the Act is national unity and reconciliation as a single concept. It's not moments and when you talk national unity and reconciliation you by definition are not talking about the individual level. So the religious paradigm, this whole experience of conversion which is an individual concept within religion could not have been the objective of the Act, it clearly was not. It's not political and the next step was within the minds of some of the members of the commission to transfer this to the national level which again obviates the exercise because it's not possible within a religious paradigm to talk mass conversion or representative conversion or representative confession and reconciliation. There may be symbols of such things but it was always thought of in terms of steps as in the conversion paradigm. That is certainly not my understanding. So best is to achieve national unity and reconciliation as a concept, as a feel, would have been simply to relate motives and perspectives, understanding of what drove people, what motivated people, understanding of how they saw the environment, the conflict and everything that went with it, understanding the reasons why people did things. If all that could have been brought to the fore, again in an integrated way by simply sharing all of it and not trying to have compartments, then I think we would have contributed much more to national unity and reconciliation.

     Secondly, what went with that is trying, again, which is almost necessitated by the religious conversion thinking, is that you had to have a victim and a perpetrator. When you talk at the national level it was again then by definition put within a frame. That frame had to be the apartheid frame. Therefore, those who had the policy of apartheid were by definition the perpetrators. Those who did not participate in decision making in that system, whatever the level of decision making, were by definition victims. It had to be reduced, in terms of the policies, to black and white and therefore you had to have reconciliation between black and white.

POM     In a way that set up a situation of where it had to be whites who had to do the conversation and admit and be the confessors of their mistakes in order to be accepted by blacks, by saying now you've accepted your past and you've erased it and we accept your confession. So it was a one-way driven process.

WM     Yes, and the difficulty of that, apart from the fact that that concept of conversion, as I have observed, does not fit any paradigm which is not at the level of individuals or any structure which is not at the level of individuals. It also reduces everything to a very simplistic question which totally disregards, for instance, the struggle within the system which is the first. It's really, I mean all whites were of single mind in terms of oppressing all blacks.

POM     The struggle within apartheid or within the white community?

WM     The white/black frame makes it so simplistic. It reduces really white to an individual and black to an individual in terms of the question and it disregards the struggle that went on in both camps if you have to reduce it to camps of white and black. That's the first major flaw in assessing what really happened, disregarding major struggles for the soul of what had to be the future of this country and therefore different approaches. It also reduces the conflict to a description of really what is a catchword, which is 'apartheid'. I mean apartheid is not analysed as to how it evolved from 1948 through 1990. It's in fact seen as a single clear homogeneous concept without any change from 1960 to 1994, not 1990 in terms of the work of the commission, which is a major problem. So that is the first difficulty.

     The second is that because of the flaw in it, the inherent flaw, all the confessions, the apologies made could by definition, again, never resolve the question because we are not dealing with two individuals. We are dealing with a heterogeneous society, heterogeneous, even if you had to look at black and white, perpetrator/victim situation. So whether De Klerk made a handsome apology as Tutu has often said, whether Handelsinstituut, the Afrikaans Chamber of Business, came and said, "We made a major mistake and really it was not a moral approach", whether the Dutch Reformed Church would have come and said it, everybody is still saying, 'the Afrikaner', or 'whites' must apologise. So a representative apology is not possible. It will never be possible and it reduces always again the question to us and them, we did, they did.

POM     And where they feel they were in a morally superior position, fighting a just war and therefore that their actions must be looked at in a different context than the actions of an apartheid regime which was inherently immoral and committing unjust acts.

WM     That's not a difficulty but that's a different question which does not relate to the Act. The Act does not talk about apartheid, the Act does not distinguish in terms of our charge of morality which is, again, not to say that the system and the struggle needs to be morally equated. No-one would these days argue that. I don't think even people argued that in the past. In the past it was a holy war situation where the other side was the forces of darkness and our side the forces of light. But that's past. If you have to judge in today's environment, apartheid - there's no dispute that apartheid is a crime against humanity in terms of international law but it wasn't always.  The changing understanding, the changing value systems, the dominant value systems created apartheid as a crime against humanity, like slavery. Slavery wasn't always a crime against humanity. I more than once vividly recalled the Bible, the New Testament, about Christ talking about the duties of masters and slaves, masters treating slaves fairly and slaves obeying their masters. Was it a crime against humanity then? Is it to be decided to have been a crime against humanity then? So somewhere a changeover came. It wasn't understood, it wasn't accepted by all at the same time but it's not the issue. The issue in terms of our charge was to look at gross human rights violations, to find it within the context that it happened and to make recommendations to reduce -

POM     When you say 'define it within the context of when it happened'?

WM     And how it happened.

POM     And how it happened, is that again at different points in time there are different value structures, that what in 1952 might not have been regarded as a gross violation of human rights, in 1994 is regarded as a gross violation of human rights because people's conceptions of what human rights are have evolved. So do you put the most recent interpretation of what human rights are, superimpose them on the past and examine them through that prism when you try to examine the events through the prisms that existed at the point in time when the acts were committed?

WM     Exactly. It might be a nice academic exercise but it has no historical context. It does not make any contribution to the future. To use an example which may be again semi-heretic, I am not sure that somewhere in the future a dogmatic application of human rights, especially in the liberal sense, may not be, again, regarded as gross violations or as violations of human rights. Uniform treatment of all, expecting everybody to act and live the same way, in terms of their attitude and actions may not somewhere in the future be seen to be a violation of people's rights to have different approaches. Democracy is a relatively recent phenomenon. I am not sure that democracy as we know it today will in another 100 years, maybe even another 50 years, be in vogue. There may be a much more systemic way of looking at questions of government and state.

POM     Clearly in the light of the imperatives of globalisation which -

WM     Absolutely.

POM     - makes concepts of national sovereignty and the like -

WM     Absolutely, and ironically I'm using the concept 'absolutely' again, but it's really to say that there is no absolute, which is very offensive to protagonists of so-called human rights values. Human rights is absolute within the thinking of human rights but so is traditional leadership, if one has to value it, absolute within traditional structures and custom.

POM     I was brought up as an Irish Catholic and that was the absolute of the absolute. Everyone else was wrong. It was as simple as that. They had to recognise the error of their ways and come round to accepting the 'absolute' correctness of the Catholic Church on everything.

WM     I have learnt too much from history, from my way of viewing history, let me again not universalise it, but from the way I understand the world and especially understand history, what is absolute is changing. There are changing absolutes and I guess it will be for a long time until such a time that more absolutes are recognised simultaneously and then allows for systemic handling or dealing with situations of life, of humanity, of the world.

POM     So if most opinion polls show that majorities in both the African community, the Afrikaner community, the white community, the Asian community all believe that the TRC has contributed more towards racial polarisation than to racial reconciliation is that a necessary part of the process itself, that it begins that way and then kind of moved - or what kind of comment would you make on that apart from saying, well I don't believe opinion polls, they don't really tell the whole story?

WM     No, I don't challenge those opinion polls, again because I believe that by far the majority of people would take a simplistic approach to questions and in that sense it's real, which is not to say that it has put SA more in a state of potential conflict than it was before the TRC. To the contrary. I am pretty sure that the fact that more is known in a sense contributes to a greater possibility of dealing with our past. I have no doubt about that too. I am only saying that we have failed, in my understanding and in terms of what would have been my expectations of the TRC, to integrate the greater knowledge of the past, not to rationalise but to explain, not to try and whitewash but to talk causal in a sense, not simply to try and now establish a single motive for whichever group but to deal with complex and differing motives which contributed to our history, our recent history and our contemporary history. If we don't learn from that interaction we cannot really make use of our past in terms of dealing with our future. If it's simply a moral, judgmental view of the past then we have achieved no tool to deal with the present or the future, no tool because we're not dealing with the social fabric as such, with interaction, with dynamics. Then we're dealing with moments as snapshots instead of societies as living organisms and I would have preferred to have developed some tools that could deal with an organism and not with a snapshot.

POM     When you hear, as you have particularly over the last year, I think since the last time we talked, fairly senior ranking individuals in the security forces come forward and either admit to or admit to having giving sanction to actions that resulted in the most atrocious barbarities, two things: (i) do you believe in your heart of hearts that the government, whatever government it was, of the day did not know what was going on around them in terms of operations, whether it's like Vlakplaas, just using that as an example, or other more systematic operations, or that they chose not to know but that it was impossible not to know? The same would apply in a way to - there was a book came out recently and I can't remember the name of it, it was what the Germans knew and it was by a Harvard professor who documented that in great detail why the German people had to know about the concentration camps and the death camps and it became a very controversial book both in the USA and more particularly in Germany. His thesis was that the day-to-day signs of ordinary living, the ordinary kind of movement of people and transportation and whatever, pointed overwhelmingly in the direction of people having to know some bad things were going on but like most people they just kept their mouths shut and kept their own life. Do you think that the majority of the people here, whites, knew some bad things were going on? You had blacks arrested every three minutes for violations of the pass laws, you had forced removals, you had people like yourself in parliament standing up, you had Helen Suzman pointing things out, you had newspapers that were saying things and they were censored. But there was a lot of information out there. I mean when on the tenth occasion somebody slips on a bar of soap out of the John Vorster prison it might at least lead one to enquire what bar of soap was being used so that one could avoid buying that brand of soap since it seemed to lead to a certain predestination. Was it impossible for people not to know or did they live in a state of denial of not wanting to know or was their society constructed, was apartheid itself constructed in a way to isolate white people by and large from knowing what was going on around them? That was a lot of questions but you can just take it as a general one.

WM     Let me start at another point rather. When you have religious absolutism going there is no way of understanding the other religions validity and the conflict in SA really evolved almost or very close to that level. If your leadership, on both sides, are depicting the opponent as the forces of darkness, by definition it says it's a religious paradigm, or quasi-religious paradigm. Then by definition you don't ask, not because you do not want to look at the issues in question but because you don't see them at all. Your structure of thinking is such, the deepness of the ideology is such that the question doesn't arise. The moment the question arises it reduces your dependence or your being a prison of the ideology, of the religion of apartheid or the religion of liberation. Only then does it allow you to become, in a sense, a bit of a balancing force in the conflict, however limited that may be.

     So taking it from there to your question whether people indeed did know or had to know, I think the reality is that they didn't know and they didn't ask, not because they chose not to ask but the question of choice never arose for very many people. I'm not saying that's the only experience. Certainly there were those with an experience that said that things are wrong. The security establishment has a licence, for argument's sake, which was my experience, which was either willed or sanctioned by some political leaders if not government and if your experience was that that was counter-productive for the broader organism which is SA, yes, sure, then you would have started to get involved, which again was my experience not on the basis of any knowledge of a Vlakplaas or assassinations at the time, planned killings, but simply on the basis of the politics, the civil part of political policy, evolvement, what was called reform at the time was being undermined. That awareness brought me to getting more involved and eventually breaking away from the NP. Only after that, through a new exposure, did I become more aware of the possibility and later even the reality of some assassinations taking place which happened to be my focus at the time. I didn't focus on any of the atrocities of liberation movement policies or whatever are coming out at the moment through the process of the TRC and before, like Quatro Camp or whatever. That wasn't important to me because my focus at the time was in seeing an involvement or a development of policy into negotiations which would lead to the establishment of some kind of democratic state on the basis of universal suffrage. That was my focus. So by definition through my exposure I would have been able to see only those things that fitted my awareness. I wouldn't have seen those that didn't fit my awareness.

     Now the question, again, taking it back to the level of government, we had evidence from people like Leon Wessels saying, "I really don't know, I think we chose not to want to know, we chose not to know." But he didn't say that in a positive that's expressing an agony in a sense. We might have had suspicions, we probably had suspicions but the system was such that we didn't ask questions. Pik Botha gave evidence saying that the President at the time, PW Botha, would not have taken kindly to any questions about security policy. You were expected not to ask questions and he didn't know what would have happened had you asked questions, that kind of approach. This was part of his evidence. So is that saying, yes, I had knowledge, or is it saying, I wasn't comfortable but, yes, I did not go in there, I did not take the surgeon's knife and try to find out what really was the boil about.

     For my part I don't believe that no-one in government with a civil responsibility had no knowledge of what was going on. My understanding clearly is that at the level of the President he might have known of some individual activities but he certainly at the time had a policy where he said, and I'm paraphrasing, "The security people are experts. They know what they're doing. They're responsible for our safety and I won't intervene. I will leave it to the professionals." He must have had some reports. Whether he had knowledge of all the activities I doubt. Were they officially sanctioned by anyone other than the President and even by the President in a positive sense by commission, I doubt. I think there would have been a few and that's coming out in amnesty applications. But there is also such a thing as a responsibility based on omission. I don't think he would have been the only one. Again, the ministers responsible for line functions and departments must have had and would have had some reports. This is now Le Grangé and Vlok on the police side and Magnus on the defence side. But the same would hold true, I think, for those who were the directors general of departments, head of police, Commissioner of Police or the head of the defence force. I don't believe that they had knowledge of everything going on but where things did come to their knowledge the choice was always for a cover up or for 'protection' in a sense, which provided a shield for these things to be ongoing. Do we learn any lesson from that?

POM     Before you answer that let me just put it in a sense that will embrace that question. It is that assuming again, and taking him at his word, that De Klerk in his testimony I think said that apartheid was not conceived in evil, it was in fact well intentioned in terms of providing the different tribes with their own homelands and letting them develop at their own pace or whatever, so grand apartheid was not conceived in evil. If one accepts that, what went so massively wrong that you end up with these tales of policemen running amok, roasting bodies on braai pits and sitting around drinking beer and running scams on the side, secret assassinations and hit squads? What went wrong?

WM     Let's not underestimate the going wrong simply through apartheid. I'm talking 1948 - fifties now. That was clearly intended at the time simply to protect or to maintain Afrikaner whiteness as a confusion, Afrikaner whites. I'm not talking about Afrikaner whites but sort of confusing the concept of white and cultural Afrikaner. The question which was perceived as a problem in society, probably again questions of different levels of, call it development, but probably more correctly stated as different value systems, again from traditional to modern. That contributed certainly to the beginning of a lot of things. It was also almost protracting colonialism beyond the period of colonialism where there had to be made a switch. Apartheid 1948 through 1960 was almost running in tandem with the last days of colonialism. When colonialism went out, never to return again as an acceptable frame of international politics, especially regarding Africa, then a new design had to be found somewhere and I think that is what De Klerk testified about. I was there and I remember vividly him talking about the days as a student at Potchefstroom. He was now talking sixties, early sixties. That was around the Verwoerd changeover to the ethnic units, moving to independence in their own homelands. That was the moral option again for the first time, post-colonialism where the question of morality didn't arise. Now there I accept that. It's not only De Klerk that gave such evidence but Roelf Meyer also said his understanding was that apartheid was immoral at that stage and a new morality had to be found which resulted in the homelands, separate development policy, independence, community - what was the word he was talking about? Not empire but the British Commonwealth concept. So there was clearly an awareness and Verwoerd stated that.

     Verwoerd in marketing his homelands and independence policy talked about apartheid not being acceptable on the basis of discrimination, being immoral and domination being immoral. So he was arguing the morality of a new policy at the time and a lot of people fell into that. But again it was something conceived not based on the reality of geography of SA and the whole demographics of SA. It was a non starter, which proved to be a non starter for most only much later. But at that stage, especially when you talk sixties, it also came with the cold war international scenario. So communism became very important, the act and suppression of communism, and then the confusion again in the international political dimension equating simply struggle for liberation with communist domination and then the assistance coming to the liberation movements basically, exclusively in the beginning, from east bloc countries and communist bloc countries and a few African states with the west simply fighting its east/west war, the west not tagging on at least in the same intensity to the liberation struggle and then in a sense with its involvement in Africa its continued conflict with the Soviet, again confusing the issue here. PW claiming at times that 'we' are fighting the west's war for it.

POM     You were the last outpost. The bulwark against communism.

WM     Yes. And then later talking about the west doing the communist's dirty work for them. So he was the representative of the west in the end. But that is again the deep ideological, and if you look at the rhetoric, quasi-religious frame within which it was viewed. Now if that is allowed then everything goes for the sake of my religion, my God, my saviour, and then apartheid becomes the god or the policy becomes the god or the policy becomes the frame within 'God can survive', using this metaphorically. Then anything goes at the level of the foot soldier and in the hierarchy up and it's challenged by fewer and fewer people.

     So what went horribly wrong? I think, again, the fact that it was cast within this religious paradigm or quasi-religious paradigm. It became absolutistic again and there was very little civil politics, or very little politics in the South African society. There was all 'religion' in the South African society and the spiral just continued, an upward spiral of action and reaction which had to have only one end until, if I have to use a religious paradigm again, almost a miracle appeared with PW having been dethroned, so to speak, by FW and, in a sense, a civilian and not a securocrat coming on to the scene and reversed the spiral through his unbanning and negotiations. That was a very late stage. But the conflict escalated even through De Klerk's reign, through the so-called third force activities and much of the horrible things happened between 1990 and 1994. But for no moment, even the broader picture of our history shows it, but for no moment do I believe that De Klerk had by any commission been part of this or even by any cover up been part of this. That he did not act in a non-civil way by allowing institutions and commissions and Goldstone to do their job, well on occasion he did interfere, after the Steyn Report for instance, without any natural justice, just firing people, ending their employment. He's blamed even for that by some people now. Now that by any measure was an over-reaction in terms of process but I think much needed at the time.

POM     Sorry, we were talking about?

WM     De Klerk. I think there's another dimension or another frame within which De Klerk has to be looked at, or his time has to be looked at, and that is simply the historical. De Klerk was leader of the Transvaal when I left the party in January 1987 after very many discussions with them whilst I was still in the party and especially very intensive talks right at the end. As you will remember I had basically two objections, the one was the group think, or apartheid, and the other one was security rule or security licence and the more pressing need was to act on the security side of things, to withdraw licence and to rein in the security people, to integrate security policy under the umbrella of the political objective of negotiations and inclusion and so on. So on that score De Klerk was an ally but in terms of the group think he was the other pole because at that stage I saw only the individual, I did not see any group as a basis for any politics, a constitution of a country. So it was a funny kind of relationship with De Klerk being my pet aversion in terms of original apartheid thinking or group think, at the same time him being the civilian never involved in security affairs, not really understanding or having a feel for it but having a gut feel against it. So De Klerk also has to be seen in the historical context.

     Coming  back to your question, did the people know? Is it not understood that they indeed had to know and therefore did know what was going on? I'm pretty sure De Klerk didn't fully understand to the extent that he might have had a feel that things were going wrong under security licence. The question I'm putting is: had he known he would probably have left, he would not have stayed in PW's cabinet. If he had to respond and react on the basis of his hunch, as I did, he would have had to leave if that's the moral expectation. So people might say that I left and therefore the moral judgement is a positive one on me. If De Klerk had to have that same moral judgement expounded on him he would not have been there for the changeover. So simply historically speaking, again I'm saying even on the basis of believing that De Klerk should have acted or even had knowledge to take it to the extreme, the fact that he stayed, the morally wrong option, allowed us a changeover. That again shouldn't be underestimated.

POM     Again, an intended consequence of being morally wrong.

WM     Exactly, exactly. Are we measuring people in terms of moral expectation or in terms of their contribution to what we have? So I am not shying away from moral judgement but I am saying we should have more of an understanding that it's but one of value systems, it's not the only one. And the moment that becomes the only one we are likely again to find the same dogmatic, almost absolutistic, quasi-religious stand-offs.

POM     I've asked a number of people this, including people close to De Klerk and those who would have been his antagonists, how will history judge De Klerk?

WM     I think history looks at moments. History is by definition not moral and I think in time history may judge him if not on a par with Mandela, above Mandela. But I'm talking history down the line. The role he played, and I'm not arguing that it was intended, in fact I'm arguing it was not intended, it almost came naturally to his way of thinking, his unbanning of the ANC was no major experience within himself which he had to go through in order to achieve that. It came naturally to him. I forgot my line - I missed my line, but let me just expand on this point. For De Klerk to unban ANC, PAC, SACP and move into negotiations was for himself a relief, was that he could get to a way of governing, of assuming responsibilities, of continuing his responsibilities, which made him more at ease. De Klerk's conversion was not the security side and the unbanning. His conversion came six months later, or four months later when he dropped the group paradigm and accepted the individual for the purposes of negotiating a constitution, where he left the group. That was his conversion.

POM     People I talk with in the ANC are very, very bitter about De Klerk. They are saying history might give him a pat on the back for the act he took in unbanning the ANC and the SACP and the other organisations but that when it comes to look at the way he tried to prolong the process of transition and the activities of the third force or whatever you want to call it and the incalculable loss of black life during that period and his inaction during that period, that it will judge him very, very harshly. That's one. Two, you have this kind of revisionist theory going around already, it's been promulgated by Van Zyl Slabbert and Heribut Adam, and to a considerable degree by Patti Waldmeir in her book on the negotiations, that in the end the Afrikaner gave it all away. Van Zyl Slabbert and Adam go so far as to say that the best negotiators that the ANC had going for them were FW De Klerk and Roelf Meyer, that in the end they simply threw in the towel and were taken to the cleaners. Would you subscribe to that kind of thinking or that they were just in the end out-negotiated?

WM     No I would not. If what you wanted to achieve was some kind of veto or real power, yes then they have been out-negotiated, but it was clearly not their intention. They wanted the kind of constitution that we have so they achieved what they wanted during negotiations. Were they negotiating really on behalf or for and knowingly so for the Conservative Party or the right wing within the NP, the right wing in terms of security, in terms of group and whatever? Yes then they've been out-negotiated. But they never wanted that, they never argued for that. Their position wasn't for that. In terms of the question and the criticism levelled at De Klerk for delaying the transformation and the changeover, that again I think history will say it's a nonsense story. If you think of February 1st before his speech on the 2nd and the situation then and election day 1994, we're talking a mere four years. That's a very, very short term to get a transition from a holy war scenario to a democratic society by its constitution with majority rule and still in a cabinet and a government of national unity where he participated. I think De Klerk lost his acceptance and credibility within the government of national unity, not in the negotiation period.

POM     Because he was in the government, part of their decision making process.

WM     No, no, I'm not talking at the level of his constituency. I'm talking at the level of the criticism from within the ANC. He lost it then because he perceived himself to be in a position where he could still be the godfather of a new democracy based on his experience of government.

POM     He thought he could still manage the process to a degree.

WM     I think he was perceived to be trying to take control of cabinet and where he didn't get his way, to criticise or to restate even his position that had already been turned down and therefore he was not perceived to be an active and a joyous participant in the new government and new democracy. He was perceived to be resisting the power and resenting the power of the new government. That's where he started to lose his credibility with them. At the level of his own constituency he didn't lose it in the negotiations, those that he did lose. He lost it with the unbanning, with his shift away from security rule. That was the basic - a lot of people still said, well we don't trust him really but let's see what happens. But he was never rejected by those who positively went with him on the basis of his negotiation. I don't buy into that. Even the election results, 1994, did not show that he had lost a major part of his constituency.

POM     Just a couple more questions and thank you for spending most of your Sunday morning when you should be relaxing.

WM     I am relaxing.

POM     How has your participation in the TRC changed you?

WM     The question is asked of me too early. I don't know yet. I have hardened in a sense to liberal dogma, liberal dogma in South African terms. I'm questioning even the dogmatic application of human rights in a liberal sense. Within the activities of the commission when we talked human rights it was really the so-called 'blue' rights that got attention through what I perceive to have been a liberal agenda.

POM     Sorry, the blue?

WM     The western human rights. Social rights have never really been discussed. Even the group, if I have to term it group or cultural, rights haven't been part of the process. If I look at the society of SA with the new political order, the so-called western human rights, just for sake of easier communication the 'blue' rights, is not what is needed by the bulk of black people today. That may be what is needed if things do go wrong by the already privileged part of our society, whites, those who are haves. They may be in need of those. But our charge is to promote a culture of human rights and we're not looking at that in a totality. In order to promote social rights we need political power because social rights are not based on limitation of government but on the empowerment of government. It's a function of policy and therefore the power to apply and we're not focusing on that. Now, again, if your focus is on apartheid and the denial of basic western rights, sure then you will focus all your recommendations on that part. Our society is in need of much more.

     I've become, again, more of a politician. This is a preliminary sort of evaluation of the change. Whereas under apartheid I fought against the denial of human rights in a 'blue' rights sense, I have shifted to the application of human rights in terms of social rights and therefore have become more of a politician again and less of a human rights activist. I think that's what is needed in our country at this moment in time. But coming back to the few remarks we had in the beginning about our constitution, our constitution is too modern in terms of its limitation of government to allow it the political power to go for acknowledging, establishing and making valid social rights for the bulk of our society.

POM     So in a way it precludes government from the kind of interventions that are needed to translate human rights into equal rights, for want of better words?

WM     The whole emphasis of the TRC activity is, again, on the empowerment of the individual and the disempowerment of government, which is fine when it comes to 'blue' rights, but it's not distinguished. There's a need to empower government on the social rights which will by definition in some way or another impinge on the empowerment of individuals in the western human rights case.

POM     It's a trade off between -

WM     There needs to be a trade off, there needs to be a balancing of the politics and the needs for Africa. I would not argue this for The Netherlands or for Scandinavia, which brings us back to the application of human rights in its totality in the society where it has to be applied which is in this instance South Africa. We talked about it in an African perspective.

POM     The last major question I have is the Deputy President in a speech on 4th June before parliament talked about the lack of progress towards reconciliation, it still being two nations, one privileged, one underprivileged, that in fact if anything that the level of poverty and deprivation had increased not diminished, the gaps between the haves and the have-nots was increasing. But most of all he talked about a collapse of morality and the need for some kind of Moral Summit which was followed by, I think, the Federation of Churches talking also about the collapse of the social fabric of the society, of the moral fabric of society. We saw George Fivaz a week ago and when we went through the causes of crime and types of crime he kept coming back to that you could not resolve the question of crime until you had re-established what he called 'values and norms' which again comes close to talking about morality. Let me put this in two ways, (i) did apartheid itself and the struggle in the townships and whatever result in a collapse of morality, and (ii) has that collapse in moral values accelerated since the demise of apartheid?

WM     I don't think there has really been a collapse of moral values and I am saying this preliminarily. The major difficulty I think was the collapse of governmental structures, some of them, especially the police where from the mid-eighties onwards the policing function was discarded and the police became a para-military agent. The police got fully involved in the conflict as opposed to normal policing functions. So the structure collapsed. I think it would be too harsh a judgement to say that moral values collapsed. I think society is simply not effectively policed. There would be much less corruption with good policing, would have been much less. I think it's also a little to do with the changeover again in terms of the broader value system of the structure of the constitution. If what is still believed to be par for the course at societal level, such as corporal punishment as acceptable is ruled out in terms of the constitution, then there is by definition again a friction between the value system of society and the value system espoused by the constitution. The same goes for the death penalty. Are we so advanced that the death penalty is against, or corporal punishment is against, a value system in SA, where corporal punishment and death penalty still operates in very advanced western societies?

POM     In the United States they can't wait to hang them up.

WM     Well you know with the reintroduction of the death penalty in very many states and recently in New York, can we really afford to be this beacon of post-modern, no not post-modern, modern human rights values and ignore the needs of the society and the understanding of a society? If there is that much of a gap between the constitution and its society you invite collapse of some kind. I think the gap is too great and I think especially our judges and the judicial system has an obligation to interpret the constitution in terms of the values operating in our country so as to narrow the gap, still stretch society towards ever advancing, more human rights thinking, again in western terms, but not to allow the constitution to be interpreted in such a fashion that it cannot be seen and recognised and understood by the society. And I am saying this generally - I know I'm generalising when I'm saying this, but I have a gut feeling that the gap is too big to manage for too long a time at this level. That's why I said, on your question, have you changed, I think I've changed more to politics and away from human rights thinking as a dogma, as a philosophy. I've adopted more of a political philosophy again.

POM     These are just, not minor, but closure questions. How does the process of day after day listening to stories of man's inhumanity to man become - where does a lower diminishing return set in? Where does it start to harden the heart rather than to heal? How many stories of atrocities can you hear whether they are Quatro camps or Vlakplaas or whatever, where the next tale has lost its power to stir the heart because you've just heard so many stories that it just has a diminishing impact? And insofar as it may have a diminishing impact, isn't it a danger that in stretching the process out indefinitely that you in fact make people more immune to horror rather than more sensitive to it?

WM     I was asked this question in a different way over the weekend. I sat in Bloemfontein in Amnesty Hearings, APLA killings, and I answered that question for myself on the basis of I think it's good that we don't only hear stories to which we can express our abhorrence but we can continue to hear them so we can recognise them as part of a reality, a reality which in a sense is an ongoing reality because there is no expression of remorse. APLA cadres still believe that they brought the transformation, the changeover on the basis of them in 1992/1993 still killing whites. It's good to recognise that as a reality because that thinking, not necessarily with them, is a reality. That mind-set is a reality. It's a reality that will continue to operate within SA for some time to come because our people haven't changed. It will only show itself with some different content. I'm not saying that the APLA soldiers will continue to kill white people but people will still think as absolutistic and are thinking as they are doing now. So recognise this again as a reality in terms of different value systems operating simultaneously in society. So in a sense it's good that we hear these stories repetitively, not in abhorrence to hearing them any more, but recognising them and then say, well is there a lesson, is there a potential? How do we deal, how do we influence, not to say educate because I don't think you can do it through education, but how do you expose people to different realities so their thinking can change? How do you work, again, with a fabric as opposed to espousing moral positions, taking moral positions, being judgmental? How do you get involved, how do you get political? How can this society become more political and not simply adopting a moral position? The first response to the atrocities is a moral response. We also need a political response to deal with our society somewhere in the future. So in a sense people will say we've had enough. I think we can have a little more.

POM     Last two questions. One is a simpler one than the other. Why has there been so little attention, or it would appear to me and I may be mistaken, paid to crimes against women? I have talked to a number of women in the ANC who say while they were in exile there were instances of sex being exchanged for getting scholarships to go abroad to study - but just abuses. And yet on the whole question of crimes against women there seems to have been a lid, either the women have not come forward or that the commission hasn't felt it was in the scope of their mandate to look at this especially.

WM     No I don't think the commission ever had a feeling that anything was outside of the scope of their mandate, and wrongly so. There was indeed a hearing on women and there was some testimony about abuses against women both by people within the system and people within the liberation movement, accusations about sanctioning on both sides through not acting. But I also know that - well let me put it differently - we also had information that people were hesitant, women were hesitant to come forward to talk about this. Very many of them are in senior positions in government so one can understand it. At the same time I think our society is still very paternalistic, chauvinistic and will be so for quite a long time and therefore all the emphases on women and women's rights and advancement of women and quotes or whatever in different areas, but it's a combination I think mainly of women not wanting to come forward and men not really being sensitive, or the society not really being sensitive, very many women not being sensitive about women's rights. By far the majority of women in SA would still be thinking in terms of the dutiful wife and not of the liberated woman as an individual. They would be thinking, our society would, and this is white and black, would be thinking much more in terms of the role of a woman than of the rights of a woman as an individual or the rights of individuals.

POM     The last, or next to last because the last is a little story about a man named Joe Seremane whose case I've followed for years. But this is like a sheer opinion question and it involves Mandela, De Klerk and PW Botha. It looks as though Mandela treats De Klerk with - despises him, and that De Klerk goes before the TRC and all the sins of apartheid are laid on his shoulders so he's accountable for everything. You have PW out there and the President calls him a 'first class gentleman', rings him on his birthday, has in a way protected him from, I won't say the efforts of the - not protect him in any non-legal way, but has not gone after him to appear before the TRC, going so far as to say, "I will accompany you myself." Why do you think the difference in the relationships? One man was his oppressor and one man was his liberator.

WM     This question has been my biggest frustration within the TRC. From the start they didn't want to go at PW and I have no knowledge but I have a hunch that indeed - let me not say that it's a collusion or a discussion or an agreement, but that both Tutu and the President, to say it softly, wanted to acknowledge PW as an ex-President and therefore treat him as such, could have followed your description. At the same time there was anger and anger against the system and that someone had to be the symbol and dealt with in terms of the wrongness of apartheid and the oppression. FW at the time was the leader of the NP, the NP was the symbol of apartheid, the leader is the symbol of the party so he's got to be made the example. Personally I think it backfired. It must have. De Klerk presided over 1990 to 1994. He did not preside over the period up to 1990, but there has to be a scapegoat for the period up to 1990. The party has to be the leader. We have discussed the individuals, total different beings in terms of their philosophies, the securocrat versus the civilian, and it must have been a mistake. Only when it backfired in a sense, when they couldn't hang him as the securocrat did they have a go at PW again. It was too late then. I would have wanted, and I did, I really did, I shouted on occasion to have PW before us, but when eventually they switched strategy again it was too late and it was without even acknowledging the process up till then in terms of studying his replies, in terms of looking at his written answers and do a follow up there. The emphasis was in getting him there, asking him questions, not even knowing whether some of them might have been answered in his reply. So, yes, I think there was in a sense at least a mutual understanding, again to put it mildly, not to go at the leader, not with the intention of protecting him, but of not antagonising the old order or the whites or by whichever definition they would have been looked at. But the mere fact that they didn't do it and tried to find another symbol more so antagonised, I think, the Afrikaner community. Then when PW was eventually brought back it was simply turned around by the white community, or some of the so-called Afrikaner community, to say, see, it's not only De Klerk, they also want to hang PW and they're doing it in an indecent way. That was a major mistake.

POM     Do you think that in some ways President Mandela harbours 'a soft spot' for PW that he doesn't for De Klerk?

WM     No I don't think so at all. I think he may at best feel that PW is an old man, more or less at the end of his lifetime. I think he may be less kindly disposed to De Klerk in terms of his experience of De Klerk post-1994 in the government of national unity and later simply in opposition. But no, I don't think he thinks PW is a good guy and De Klerk is a bad guy. No I don't think so.

POM     What do you mean by 'good'? More in an odd way a greater sense of camaraderie between the two?

WM     There's no camaraderie between De Klerk and Mandela left.

POM     That's right. But between Mandela and PW?

WM     No I think it's simply an absence of antagonism, not a camaraderie.

POM     The very last thing is my story of Joe Seremane which you must have heard over and over again and I came back and revisited him and asked him had he received a response from the TRC and he said he had and he produced what looked like a form letter from the Reparations Committee saying,

     "Dear Mr ... (a name filled in )

     It has been recognised that a gross violation of human rights was committed against your brother Timothy  ... etc.   Enclosed are the reparation forms. Please fill them out and send them back and you will be eligible for a reparation of R3000."'

     And he opened up the stack of forms which was like a bank application in terms of the amount of detail required, and he said, "I don't want money. I want to know where my brother's bones are. I want to my brother's bones home. I want to know who killed my brother. I want to know what kind of trial he had. I want to know who was responsible for those decisions. That's what I want to know. Pieces of paper and giving me R3000 is an insult to me." He's more angry now than he was before he took the decision to go before the TRC, which he took with a lot of apprehension, his family advising him, "Forget it, just don't do it. You're putting maybe the life of the family in danger." He will talk about how he goes home by a different route every evening, how he puts threads on the door. He says it's like the old days, "I put threads on the door in the office, put files in certain places, because I feel apprehensive that because I exposed I will in some way, or my family will in some way become a target. At the same time I have had no relief and no questions, none of the pertinent questions I raised, answered in any satisfactory way at all."

WM     I understand that. It's mainly a function of process. The TRC works in different committees. The Reparation & Rehabilitation Committee has adopted a policy, which was then endorsed by the commission, on which I will have some minority positions, which focused on payment and not on reparation and even less on rehabilitation. So the forms were an inevitable outcome of that policy. It does not deal with victims on a needs basis and he expressed his needs in a different way. But at the same time there is a Human Rights Violations Committee for him to which he gave his evidence. It is being dealt with and there were more extensive investigations around this and more people involved in questioning and there will be a report on this which I have read a draft of at this moment in time which deals more extensively with his questions. But he has answers and not all the answers. Some of the answers he will find in the final report. Now that's, again, that's a predicament for the commission. How do they handle this? Do we inform people all along as we get information and put it in the public domain or do we deal with answers in the report? And the second option is really being followed or exercised. Yes, it causes a lot of additional pain, in a sense re-victimisation of people but I hope that in another two months or so he will have more answers.

     What is not understood, I'm not saying by Joe Seremane, but by very many victims is that the TRC really, it was expected, could never supply the answers through investigations to the questions of 40,000 50,000 victims coming through 20,000-odd statements. We simply never had the capacity. It wasn't envisaged, the investigative unit was really simply in order to assist in this process of story telling and of amnesty hearings and so on. It's not to replace the police of SA in terms of really investigating crimes of the past. And we didn't make that clear from the start and even where we did get information, and mainly through amnesty applications, we followed up on some investigations and presented that as breakthroughs of our investigative unit, creating more expectations. But the investigative unit really was it not for the design of the Act, of amnesty applications, we would have had virtually no extra information.

POM     And as I leave, will the report that comes out in October, will the report that will follow that report be, I won't say a new report, but will it take the report that comes out in October as the premier report and there may an addition to it here, an addition to it there, but essentially what comes out in October will contain the major findings?

WM     Yes, yes. What is now being referred to as the codicil will deal with basically further amnesty applications and information coming through those applications. It is a pity. It's also a pity because what is the first report will have been drafted in virtually no time with very little input from the commission as such, or commissioners, and which will be based on work done using secondary data and applying our data base information to the frame already created. There will not be a good analysis of our data or a thorough analysis and trends and so on flowing from that information. I think what will almost be a necessity is the availability of data to the public domain for the purposes of thorough analysis.

POM     I would think there are already a couple of think tanks and institutes applying for massive grants.

WM     I think the scientific society itself will deal with that without those grants. I also think that an analysis of data may show, will show some different findings. I'm not talking related to incidents but to the broader picture. It was to be that we all entered this process with our own pre-dispositions, or dispositions and that with the lack of real discussion and inter-action within the commission amongst commissioners that interpretation of data would be done on the basis of fitting our dispositions. So that's also a flaw in how we tackled the issues but there was a resistance to real sharing of understanding, getting on with the job as if that was clear and as if we had a unity of sense and mind and there are a lot of frustrations.

POM     So in a sense the drafters may exercise an influence disproportionate to their position in this whole thing?

WM     Yes. Unless we call them the 'grafters', but yes some people would exercise an influence which is disproportionate to what I think was intended.

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.