This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
03 Feb 1999: Phosa, Matthews
POM. You had just used a very felicitous phrase that top negotiators don't survive.
MP. I said top negotiators don't always survive and I asked you where is Cyril Ramaphosa, where is Roelf Meyer. They are like Moses who climbed on the mountain of Sinai and saw Jerusalem but never reached there. Those two top negotiators are not there in government today, but I believe that they are such great leaders that they will come back one day.
POM. Now you were a top negotiator yourself and you survived.
MP. Well I've survived because I was not the leader of the team. I suppose I'm equally guilty like they are because I was part of those compromises but I have survived so far.
POM. Let me begin at the end, your accident and how that affected your outlook on life, on what you wanted to do with the rest of your life coming so close to death, on how it rearranged your values in terms of what was really important and what's less important.
MP. You can't be serious. That's not a constitutional discussion.
POM. This is a human discussion.
MP. I think what happened was that that type of serious accident which almost takes away your life and demobilises you from life for such a long time, I was eight months on my crutches, it makes you have a different sense of priority. There are many things which we regard as very urgent in life, as very important, which in fact are not, neither urgent nor important. It makes you be able to focus on what is really important, what is real priority, not the emotional flashes or quick appetites, but the real issues which confront humankind. My own initial reaction has been to move from one party to the other, to want to do things, to want to be present here or to be there, to be present all the time and participate in everything. It's not realistic. Life will go on whether you are there or not there. It is that realisation which makes you realise that you have to prioritise and do what you can do and do it well. I have a job to do and there are many politicians who understand that as a politician you don't have to be a sissy or if you're a sissy you won't survive. But there are many things that can detract you and then of course you've got to learn to concentrate on what is essential and your own mind tells you that a lot of things are not important, they are not urgent although they may look so.
POM. What kind of things did you think were important that you realised weren't so important?
MP. For example, you think your goggles are important, you think your watch is important, your shoes. They're not. It's you who is important. It's you, yourself, in your nakedness you are more important than the rest of the things which you carry on your body. You need a sharp realisation, you're not your watch, you're not your goggles, you're not your pen. It doesn't matter if it's made of gold or diamonds, it's you the person which is more important and that person which must serve other human beings, not in an aesthetic approach but in a real sense: work for peace, work for stability and for progress in a more genuine way than you would want to say you are doing it. You want to see results of those efforts to work for peace or stability or progress. That is my focus. It doesn't matter whether I'm in politics or in business, that will be my focus.
POM. Two quotes from that article which I just pulled out and one was: "If I remain in government I should have the health or transport portfolio", and the other was: "I've got a lot of energy and find politics very boring. Is this what I want out of life? There is no quality of life for a politician with appointments from Monday to Sunday." That in a way would suggest that you are reconsidering your future career in politics, saying politics are not the most important thing.
MP. I don't think politics should be a career, I think it should be a form of service. Unfortunately many people take it as a career and then we land in many problems. If we go into politics to serve, and I'm not being Utopian here, because that's what we said to the people we want to do. Whether or not we always mean it is another matter but we should mean it, that's what I'm saying. My own position is if you came from a strong business background, you've got many options at all times and as you finish your term of office you should weigh both of them equally and decide whether you want to go to business again or continue with politics. That's what I'm raising, the issue I'm raising there, but I'm going to apply my mind to the options before me once again and if I'm convinced that I don't need to stay in politics I will leave LE A V E. If I'm convinced I should stay I will stay ST A Y. Those two options I'm going to exercise in the next few months.
POM. Health or ?
MP. Yes, you see health is an emotional issue now in our country today. Our health facilities are very bad. I went off to hospital in a car, when I arrived there there was no stretcher to pick me up. With that type of break they were pulling my leg this way, you can imagine what pain they were causing me. Whatever way they held that bone they killed me with pain until I sat on a bed there. Even there they struggled just to get me right. Now I said to myself, if it happens to me it must be happening to hundreds and thousands of people who go through the same trauma, others die. What would be the priority if I was to be a minister of health? I would like to do those basic, simple things.
POM. But does distinguishing between Dr Zuma on the national level and an MEC for health at the provincial level, at what level would you like to be?
MP. I was just musing, you understand.
POM. Does an MEC for health have that much authority?
MP. They have authority, a lot of authority. They don't have the ultimate authority of resources of course, it's centred nationally. They don't have the ultimate authority on norms and standards, it's national. I was musing and saying this is one of the things that if I had time and opportunity to get right I would get them right, how to look after the health of the nation because I think we're making a lot of mistakes.
POM. Just a spin-off from that and that is the prevalence of AIDS in the country. The figures are staggering.
POM. Life expectancy would be down -
MP. It's very, very low.
POM. - to 43 by the year 2005.
MP. We're working very hard to try and educate people. It's the thing we need to do, educate them. All of us, private sector, government, churches, everybody doing that, education is the tool better than anything else. So we're embarking on education, we've been doing it for some time. I will tell you a joke about this AIDS thing, we have the second largest infected province, KZN is number one. Now because we are on the border of many countries, we interact with many countries here, we've got many mines here, migrant workers, coal mines, gold mines, platinum, a lot of mines, we have this phenomenon. Now one chap was saying, "Oh, how can Phosa allow KZN to lead us on this question? How can he do that?" He missed out that they are not leading on a good thing. They laughed. It's true.
POM. Do you think in the top echelons of government and the ANC it is being treated even as a problem that's more serious than crime because you're educating people who are going to change the whole demographic structure of the country, topple the basis for development.
MP. Yes, Thabo was leading this thing, he's leading it himself. He's leading this campaign, Thabo. No he's serious, he's very serious. We understand the economic implications of these things for our country. It has very serious implications. I've got mayors of six towns who are visiting me, coming to see me.
POM. Do you get regular reports of statistics so you know where it's going up and what proportion of hospital beds are occupied by HIV infected patients?
MP. We know, it's very easy to get that information.
POM. I want to go back to one thing you mentioned when we were talking about Ireland and that was the question of amnesty. I've had long discussions with Kobie Coetsee and also with Jacob Zuma because they were involved in a discussion of amnesty at some point, but wherever you read, you read that the conventional wisdom, it was even repeated the other day by Van Zyl Slabbert, he said, "At one point the ANC made an offer of blanket amnesty."
MP. We did. That's when Cyrus Vance was here. We were exploring, just in the context of exploring what would be the position scenario if there was just blanket amnesty. We then said well it would affect who? Which category of people? We then said who it would affect on our side and Coetsee and them said no, they don't have anybody who requires amnesty, they only have rogue elements moving around, there is no-one. We said what about the police and the army?
POM. And this is Kobie who said it?
MP. Yes, they said no they don't have any people who need amnesty, nothing. You understand? We said, "Ah, well then let's not talk about it. We've got indemnities, bye-bye."
POM. So he is engaging in a campaign of self-justification when he goes around saying it was he who proposed a blanket amnesty.
MP. No, he proposed it in regard to those he called terrorists. When we wanted to know from his side who will benefit from there, he said there was no-one who needs it.
POM. On the government side?
MP. Yes, and it was not true and that was the point. They tried to then give this chap amnesty, which Mandela then later invalidated, which was wrong.
POM. They gave who?
MP. Some Generals. You remember the trial? We could never agree as to who would be the beneficiaries, but they never wanted to acknowledge that their people committed human rights violations. You understand what I mean?
MP. Even Roelf never, he would never, even when we tried to break the deadlock under the Record of Understanding, one morning he was angry with Cyril when Cyril said, "Uh-uh, if we're talking about amnesty, for whom on your side?" He got very angry, very angry. So we could never do it because they wanted to paint us in a corner, that it's us the criminals, not them. It's a stupid way of losing a good thing but that's what happened.
POM. So Cyril thought that they're in in fact as I recall when we came here first exiles had to fill out forms applying for indemnity.
MP. Now that was a process which I ran myself.
POM. You had to fill out every
MP. Yes for indemnities.
POM. And you had to fill out every offence you were involved in and if you didn't list an offence you would be prosecuted for that offence as you came into the country.
MP. Exactly. Then that meeting I had with Maduna and Kobie after a fax from Thabo and Cyrus Vance and that's when we discussed this thing and we thought we could break the deadlock and talks failed because they didn't want to acknowledge that they were involved in atrocities. You see that's how it failed. We were going to be categorised with the rogues, what they called rogue elements. They said no it was just rogue elements. It was not rogue elements, it was deep in their machinery, they committed the crimes here.
POM. But they wouldn't even acknowledge that there were rogue elements?
MP. No, no, they didn't. And that's why it's so strange how they lost the amnesty thing.
POM. I'd like to talk about the ANC going to court before the TRC results were released.
MP. No, that is a technical point where Congress felt that they were not being allowed to make a certain submission, it was being ignored in the findings.
POM. A submission on?
MP. A further submission to the TRC answering questions on unfavourable comments. They were responding to unfavourable comments but the TRC said, no we're out of time. So the ANC thought, ah, what happens now? It may have been an error of judgement but that's what happened.
POM. But it took away the attention from the findings.
MP. Sure, sure. Nobody has set out to do that. I don't want to talk about it on record. We've different views at the moment.
POM. What did you make of their findings?
MP. The TRC?
MP. I think they're fine. I wouldn't have a problem with it. It's just that we want to be able to respond to specific questions like where they tried to equate our armed struggle with apartheid. You can't do that. There is not a starting point. Obvious things where they say the Douglas Report is our report. It's not our report, it could be a CIA report, we don't know whose report it is, but they are attributing it to us. Matters of fact were not correct there.
POM. But they then made a distinction between a just war and said the liberation struggle was a 'just war'. And then they said but you can use unjust means
MP. Yes but then they criminalize legitimate military action in all wars fought since mankind. Those actions were never criminalized. Why should it happen to us? In the history of war it never happened. It was acts of war. submission of principles on which you can argue for 100 years and we'll never agree.
POM. So you disagreed with that distinction between a just war and justice in war?
MP. Yes we differ. It's too biblical the approach there. It's not politics, it's religious. In the church you can argue like that.
POM. Do you think that it has done anything to bring about reconciliation in the country?
MP. It's too early to say because it's still going on. At the moment there are a lot of divisions, different perspectives, different understandings. We'll talk about it in March next year.
POM. In March, that's a month from now.
MP. March, that's when they finish. We'll do an assessment of that.
POM. OK. What do you think is going to happen with the 200 named individuals? Are they going to be personally do you think there should be a process of prosecution where the evidence points to the prima facie - ?
MP. You will have a combination of things. We will have a situation where we are trying to avoid taking the country back, finding creative solutions to some of the questions, finding new legal differences within that context of amnesty. You might have cases where there will be prosecutions but there is not one solution there. You must find a number of solutions depending on the circumstances and merits of the cases very creative.
POM. For example, Chief Buthelezi, named as a collaborator, an agent of the state.
MP. How do you prove that? It's just one person.
POM. What I'm saying is that to prosecute him would be like lighting a match and putting it up to an oil tanker in KZN.
MP. You can prosecute anybody, anybody we make that very clear, I spoke openly on this matter. Buthelezi was very angry with me, very angry with me. I said publicly that he is not untouchable. I made it very clear but the question is what do you want as a nation? What do you want? Is that what you want, to go back to some sort of Nuremberg or do you want to create a gap between yourself and them? I think we are more inclined to the latter, we will find different ways to deal with those difficult cases, there are many such cases. What do you do with PW Botha? Many difficult cases. What do you with De Klerk who has committed human rights violations? Is it in your interests to prosecute him? I don't think so.
POM. So there comes a time maybe when you close the books?
MP. There must come a time and Thabo will manage that process, he will manage it. We're still discussing it, it's still delicate, it's very delicate. You must listen to Mandela's speech on Friday and hear what he is saying there.
POM. I want to go back to something and it refers to in our last interview you said the media, the media, a lot of times, what the white media writes and there is nothing in it. There's an article in yesterday's -
MP. Business Day.
POM. Yes. It says how Phosa I come here and I listen and people talk and they say this and they say that.
MP. You've gone off from the Irish problem, you're discussing other things now. I want to go to the meeting now.
POM. I want to talk to you.
MP. No, we're finished now, we're finished.
POM. No we're not finished yet, we can't be finished yet.
MP. Unless you sleep over and we talk later.
PAT. We can come tomorrow.
MP. Are you still here?
PAT. We're going to Maputo for the night and then coming back.
MP. Well come tomorrow in the afternoon.
POM. What time? Three? OK. I'll be here at three o'clock. So the question I want you to think over is: two years ago you were being hailed as the
MP. No I'm not worried about it. I won't discuss it because I think it is delicate at the moment. It's a very sensitive party issue.
POM. Yes. But are you a golden boy any longer or - ?
MP. I feel it still but I don't discuss that.
POM. You're still a golden boy?
MP. Yes I am.
POM. I spent a lot of last night going over the conversation and listening to you from yesterday. What struck me was your laughter.
MP. What about it?
POM. It was terrific.
MP. I was laughing on radio last week and these chaps phoned me, they said, "Listen, you know what is powerful about this interview is the laughter", and they want to play this because it conveys a particular meaning.
POM. I was listening to it to see, as you would as a lawyer, to assess the person I'm interviewing, to see what frame of mind they're in and you came across to me as very much at peace with yourself.
MP. I am. Ask my nurse who takes my temperature every day.
POM. And much more relaxed than you were a year ago when I met you.
MP. I was under pressure.
POM. You were smoking like a dragon. Now in a way, at least the media puts you, or your opponents have put you, even under more pressure with these headlines of 'Fall from Grace', 'The Fall of Matthews Phosa'. And you laugh at that.
MP. Yes, it's just rubbish. If it was truthful I will be a bloody worried man, I'll be looking for a hole to hide.
POM. That's right and we would be buying it.
MP. Yes, looking for a hole to hide, I wouldn't look at you at all.
POM. I told you we found your stockpile?
PAT. In Maputo.
MP. You will never find it!
POM. We did. How much do you want to bet?
MP. One million US dollars.
POM. I found out
MP. You don't seem to forget the stockpile thing.
POM. I found one of the other people who were arrested was somebody whose father I had been interviewing for years. The son had been in the MK and had left at 16 and gone to Angola and then ended up in Zambia and his father had gone there and brought him back and then he was, as he told me, sent on a mission to go to Mozambique and pick up arms and bring them back and he got arrested on the way back.
MP. That would not be one of mine. Mine were not arrested on the way back. They were arrested on the way in.
POM. So they didn't even get the arms?
MP. They got the arms and they were right inside the country.
POM. Well he went and got them and then was going back into the country with them.
POM. So I don't know whether the name, because he's now living in America, he left as young kiddie, joined the MK at 16, he's William Tshabalala.
MP. I don't know that name. We used all sorts of names. I was Freddie.
POM. Freddie. You don't look like a Freddie.
MP. I was. For five years I carried the name Freddie, six years.
POM. But what I wanted to go back on, you may find these funny questions but they're questions because of the work that I am doing. It's on the following - people who were deeply involved in the struggle and what happens to their lives afterwards as well as before. Yesterday you talked a little bit about, I think you were the first black lawyer here in Nelspruit, a little bit about yourself, when you went abroad, what you did when you came back in. And I want to come back to the question of amnesty because Kobie Coetsee has such a different ingrained, passionate idea about what the amnesty deal was about. He said it came from them and you said it did but in this categorised way: we will apply it to you but not to us.
MP. We are the angels, you are the villains.
POM. First I'd like to hear about you: where you came from, where you grew up, how you got involved, where you were educated.
MP. Who me?
POM. Yes, you.
MP. My office can send that CV.
POM. I don't want your CV, I want to hear it out of your mouth.
MP. No, that's a long story. That's a long, long story. No-one wants to read my CV in full because it's long. I may be 45 but I've got a long history already. It's there, I will fax it to you.
POM. I know but that's only a CV, but tell me about yourself. Where did you grow up?
MP. No, that's a long story, very long. It will take you the whole three hours, seriously. Is that what you want?
POM. I want to know who you are.
MP. Look at my CV.
POM. That's only a CV. Everybody prints out a CV. It doesn't tell you anything about the person. It tells them about : bullet, bullet, bullet, bullet. Not real bullets but computerised bullets.
MP. That isn't very long. I was born in Nelspruit in a township called Mbombela. Now we were removed from there, all of us. If you go there today you will find a company called Delta Manganese, the whole plant is there, there's no sign that there was ever a house there. We all moved into the township here called Kanyamazane.
POM. When did that happen?
MP. This is during the early seventies, everybody was moved then.
POM. Were you aware? Well you'd have been a young man.
MP. Yes, all of us. We grew up there.
POM. You were just told to get out?
MP. Yes, to leave, there's a new township called Kanyamazane. It's ironically a place of animals, that's what it means, Kanyamazane, a place of animals. There were animals because it's next to the Kruger Park this place, it was a place of animals. That's where we were moved to and they knew that township was born. Well my grandfather when
POM. What did you feel when you were moved?
MP. Let's come to that later. My grandfather always lived in Potgietersrus, it is far north and I then was sent there to grow up, to look after cattle, hunt, fish, go to school at the same time, do all these rural, very rustic life, to get the background. My father believed that's important that I get that background, rural life until I passed Standard Six and then of course I came back and went to Eastern Transvaal then. Then I went to schools around here, not far from here, I could walk.
POM. Were they township schools?
MP. Rural area, the state schools. I went there, but there are many things which happened then to make my make-up, student activities. It's a long story, it's dangerous to try and summarise it.
POM. But was there turmoil in the schools?
MP. There was turmoil, we caused the turmoil, it was of our resistance. In a very isolated state school where 75% of the teachers were Afrikaans and 75% of the subjects were taught in Africans, we were very fluent in Afrikaans which explains why I wrote a book in Afrikaans, a poetry book. Of course there were a lot of practices which were typically discriminatory which gave rise to some resistance from us and we were nearly expelled from school because of those things. It's a whole story on its own, a book on its own, that whole resistance thing which we had there. We sabotaged some activities because we thought they were racist on the school campus. We thought they were discriminatory against us or our parents, we sabotaged them. This story is written in many other books. Any normal child in SA
POM. So you were at school, had been removed when the Soweto uprising occurred.
MP. No I was just before that and I went to university just before that. At university then, you can look at the history of Black Consciousness, that was the dominant student movement at the time, SASO.
POM. Steve Biko.
MP. I belonged to that group, Steve was my leader. He was in the leadership, we were young, younger than him, but I belonged to that group. We were very active, we were the foot soldiers at that time and growing ideologically in a particular way, still very narrow of course in my view. Then of course going through the mill of the whole uprising at that time which was characterising University of the North. University of the North has a history of resistance throughout, throughout, and I was just a role player amongst many. Cyril Ramaphosa was with me, Terror Lekota was with me. I can go on and list them like that. We were together. Cyril we were in the same class for four years. Yes, he came from there. Frank Chikane was with me at that time and Aubrey Mokwoena was there, that's where we came from, that's our group generation which later came to make a serious impact on the national scene until today.
POM. You were all in the same school, same class?
MP. Not same class, Cyril was in class, but the same group, faculties. The ruling group basically now, it's our group. Very largely in business, in politics, it's our group.
POM. It's your generation.
MP. Yes, they're there and they're going to be there for the next 15, 20 years. They're very strong in many, many areas. They are there but there are many specialising in various areas. This is our group. I came from that. We left university in that time when everything all of us were expelled several times and went back.
POM. Where did you go to university?
MP. University of the North in Pietersburg, up north.
POM. That was just for black students?
MP. Yes that's all. Then we went through the mill of ideological debate which we gave back to the national forum, it was very Black Consciousness orientated. Immediately after that was formed the UDF, United Democratic Front, you see in that context. Then the university was split, it started there, and we then moved from a Black Consciousness base into a Charterist base, which was ANC based. A lot of us, Terror, myself, many, we moved that way. Popo also, we all moved that way and left a very small group of people in Black Consciousness. As I say, we felt it was based on ideology that was and exclusive. They argued not, but we felt it was a good diet for us to draw back on. It made us proud, it made us self-conscious, more assertive as individuals. We needed to grow into a broader plateau as far as we were concerned and we thought the ANC was providing that home for us. We developed that way and we understood very well because there was intensive consultation between all of us inside and outside to form the UDF which was not accident, it was a conscious deliberate effort by the ANC. Of course through that I'm thrown out of the country in that milieu of resistance. That weekend when the first person was necklaced in Uitenhage, we saw it on the screen on television there, the beginning, that's the weekend when I left. Not that I had anything to do with that but I can remember it, it was a bit of it coming inside, the message was building up. I was thrown out by that message of resistance. We were involved not only in the I was involved with the ANC, I've told you that, underground structures, the political and military structures.
POM. Now just remembering Steve Biko, if I asked you your most conscious memory of him since he has now achieved mythological proportions?
MP. He is larger than life. He was a man of his time in a very special way, who rose to the occasion when there was a vacuum for leadership and tried to fill that gap, tried to harness the minds of the young intellectuals, young people into a particular direction, ignited the imagination of the youth in the country into the particular direction of activism. There are many things which remind me of him other than him being a leader. If you listen to his testimony in the trial, in a political trial, where he puts the philosophy of Black Consciousness, that's recorded.
POM. The trial?
MP. Of some of the young guys and soldiers, where he explains a lot of things there in mitigation. He was called as a witness in mitigation. I can't remember the name of that trial but it's there, it's recorded in the movie Biko, they repeat every word which he said there. Look at that movie, they repeat every word there which he said. It's not drama, it's what he said. Then the traumatic one, very traumatic for us because it happened in the context where there was a lot of resistance and in fact we were chased around by the police from campus that time and it was the announcement of his death. Donald Woods wrote a very moving story at the time, very moving story, explaining and clearing that suspicion, raising very sharp questions as a journalist which really were bothering our minds as students. It was very traumatic not only for his family but for all of us who felt our head had been cut like that. Many other people were leaving for exile at that time, many, many others at that time. We were just going and going. It was the in thing. You did not know when you will meet the next person, he will be gone. We were just going.
POM. Now you had gone through Law School at that time?
MP. University of the North. Yes, I did two degrees there. Some of these things happened when I mean this pupil thing happened when I was a student but I thought I was safe when I'm out of campus. One continued with activities, political activities. As I said, I was involved in the military structures and also in political structures and those things are hot, they are hot. If a bomb explodes it seems to burn in the direction of those who handled it. We learned that, even on the Island when we'd been arrested, in the prison this and that and a trial for most of us. I was not going to escape that and I didn't escape it and I ended up being thrown out into exile. And I've told you the story about where I went for training in East Germany.
POM. No you didn't.
MP. I did tell you last time.
POM. No, I have the transcript right beside me.
MP. I was sent to Germany for political training and military training, intelligence, counter-intelligence, all those sort of things, practical things necessary for me to execute the struggle both politically and militarily.
POM. When you were in East Germany
MP. In 1985.
POM. - were you free to move about?
MP. No, I was there as a student for a specific programme.
POM. So you only saw one box.
MP. You stay where you stay, you go for training, you go to class, come back, taken for shopping, you go out from Berlin, all of you go there to a club. You don't know anything there so you don't go anywhere except where you're allowed, all of you. You go shopping, you go on jolly rides and everything. You go with these chaps who were hosting you. We don't know where to go. We mixed with people who were working with us. We were supposed to be protected ourselves.
POM. Did you ever get an opportunity to talk to just ordinary East German people?
MP. No, because we were protected. You know that you don't have to sell yourself. You could be seen in the west and can be late home you're a risk to your security, all these things.
POM. What did that make you feel as somebody who was putting his life on the line to establish a democratic state, existing in a non-democratic state where not only were you in a non-democratic state but you were almost banned from talking to the people in that state, kept away from them so you couldn't hear their opinions as to what they thought of what was going on in their own country?
MP. We didn't see it as a ban, we saw it as our own protection. We didn't want them to know us because were not there on a tour, we were not there on business. We wanted to hide ourselves. Our whole training was saying 'hide yourself', because they may want us not to speak to those people but that is to our advantage. Today those people would be talking.
POM. But you're a highly intelligent and curious person. I can't imagine you being some place and not saying I want to find out what's going on around me.
MP. It's easy to speak as a professor. In an arms conflict situation everything is secret and survival is important and it's only through covering, camouflaging that you survive. I lived in Mozambique, now when I go to Mozambique I feel that I want to be a tourist, but at that time no. The beaches did not exist for me, the restaurants did not exist for me. You understand what I mean? Your whole orientation is now avoid public places because it exposes me. I'll avoid speaking to strangers, they could be recruited. You retreat into a cocoon so it suited us even if maybe they wanted to achieve other objectives.
POM. Do you still feel that you're in danger?
POM. That you need bodyguards or do you travel with bodyguards?
MP. No. It's executive danger, that you would take executive decisions, maybe you will offend someone and something can happen to you. It's normal. Anybody is exposed to the same type of danger, whether you are in the United States or anywhere.
POM. But you don't - ?
MP. No, I'm not -
POM. What did you learn in East Germany?
MP. Many things. I studied politics.
POM. That was Marxist/Leninism.
MP. No, I did capitalism, comparative studies of the isms, very serious comparative studies we did, and we did, of course, intelligence, counter-intelligence, security, photography. We did military things. We studied all the arms from the west and the east and how to use them as much as possible, and whether it's arms or explosives, whatever, a very scientific study of all those things because we were being prepared to be commanders, to go and teach others and whatever was going to be thrown at us in the corners of the struggle. So it was a lot of things.
POM. You were married at the time, right?
MP. Yes, I left my wife at home.
POM. How many children?
MP. One child then. The other two were born after I came back. They were lucky to be born. They were nearly not born if I didn't come back. Yes it's true, they were nearly not born. My wife was just with me for close to six years.
POM. Could you communicate with her?
MP. Yes through third parties.
POM. Through other people?
MP. Yes and then later there was this trek to Lusaka because it was fashionable too and see the ANC, then we could phone, safe phones, we could phone, we could communicate. But you will have to talk to my wife to understand how she felt herself. Sometimes you guys say, hell I've been away from home for one week, I feel I'm missing my wife. I've been away for five years. It's not child's play. She's a very strong woman, a strong husband, to believe in each other.
POM. She must love you very much.
MP. Yes. So I love her very much too.
POM. A very lucky man.
MP. Yes. So I am saying, these are things I don't like talking about because many South Africans have gone through worse things, they have died, I feel grateful I'm alive.
POM. What did you learn when East Germany fell?
MP. I'm coming back to your question. I've answered your question very honestly, it's how I felt at the time. We didn't want to know anybody. Our security lies in not knowing anything more than we need to know. That's how you feel as a guerrilla. Then when you saw this Gorbachev thing coming up it was very clear that something radical is going to happen. But even when you were there you could hear this fear from the security that this youth seemed to be more attracted by what is happening across the wall, they don't know what sacrifices were made and it's very easy to lose this thing. You will be a drop in the other world in the capitalist system, lose this and that benefit. You could hear that. But then when Gorbachev, perestroika, glasnost started it was clear the walls are going to shake. I was not sure they were going to fall but I thought they were going to shake. People start talking, ah, the systems will change on their own, that sort of thing came out. But then it was much more radical than any one of us thought. The walls did not shake, they fell. They fell, the systems fell. It was a sober realisation. We have characterised that thing through many of our political leaders, Joe Slovo wrote about it and Pallo Jordan wrote about it.
POM. Sorry, the Leipzig Option?
MP. Yes, they wrote about it and we recognised maybe we were fooled, maybe there were mistakes, maybe we were not told everything, maybe we need a system, not necessarily a capitalist system, maybe we need something in between because they both have their weaknesses and limitations. So we're trying to find our own way too without copying, like copycat, any system as it is. Then we began to evolve a lot of new positions around the Freedom Charter. You know our policies today, they've evolved, they've evolved and been formed by world experience. You can't be isolated from that world experience. But the basic tenets are still there, which are the standard bearers of what is humane, what is democratic. We remain the standard bearers of what is democratic in the country, what is humane and any other party which wants to survive will have to aid us and they're doing that, talking about transference, the accountability, democracy, they're never talking about those things.
POM. Let me, and if you don't want to talk about it just say so because I'm confused, I'm confused about when I read the constitution, I've got my little pocket book like everybody else, can pull it out and look for a chapter and verse.
MP. Don't worry, it took us four years to write that thing.
POM. It's like the Gospels, pull it out. What is the real relationship between the central government and provincial government? Let me give you the context I'm coming from so you can address it from that: it seems to me, just going back to Terror Lekota's experience, and the ANC set up a commission which said that just because you are head of the regional ANC, the chairperson, it doesn't give you automatic access to being the premier in that particular province, that premiers will be appointed from the centre. Then, two, that, like you fired people and it would seem to be that one of the fundamental rights of a premier is to appoint his own cabinet and to fire people who are not up to the job or don't do the job or if they're under suspicion for corruption or whatever, it's an accepted right in about every other democracy that the premier of a province or whatever has the right to I don't like you any more, I'm dropping you, you're not performing, you're ineffective.
MP. I want to comment about that much later, not now. The first one is very easy, I'm going to comment about that. We have taken a decision as a party on the appointment of premiers. You see we are faced with a situation where these positions were used for power struggles in the past three years. That divided the movement in a very terrible way and we had to find a way of managing this.
POM. Was the movement dividing itself because of power struggles?
POM. There's no third force involved here?
MP. No, it was only struggles for premiership and power and chairpersonship. It was an honest and genuine good faith attempt by the leadership to bring order. That's what motivated it. I supported it, I have been pushing for it for a long time because we were getting sick and tired of whenever there is a conference there's a big blood, a lot of blood on the floor. We don't want that. The party was always divided all the time because of these little battles. It's a genuine attempt to bring stability. Investors want that stability in a province, so it was motivated by good motives rather than bad motives. I'm not saying it cannot be abused, it can be abused, but the initial conceptualism of it was meant very well. The second issue is sub judice, that's why I don't want to talk about it.
POM. What's your own personal opinion? I won't quote you or anything, and you'll get a transcript of that and you can say this is off the record.
MP. No I don't want to give a personal opinion now. I'm holding it back. It is going to depend on the events of the next six weeks. I might have to express an opinion later on that matter, very strongly, depending on exactly how issues, the whole issue is being handled. I am holding back a lot of things really to keep my back. I will express myself depending on how each player plays their game.
POM. Are you, being a very political person, a political animal, even though you say you're bored by politics, at one level you must be fascinated by - ?
MP. No. I will tell you what, I came from business, I know what it means to make money. I don't understand why anybody would kill for a political position. I don't understand. It's rubbish, it's nonsense. So I cannot be married to any political position myself, I would not. But I know the other world, I think, I don't understand, maybe it's just I don't have a long term interest in it, I don't understand it. I take it, you get in there to serve and if you get in there for anything else I have a problem, I do have a problem. I've said so in Leadership magazine. I have a serious problem and therefore get a little bit disillusioned with little power struggles around politics. I had a law firm, it was very successful and it grew to overflow capital, I began to invest in this business and that business and that business.
POM. You were the first black lawyer in Nelspruit.
MP. Yes, which is how business should grow. It flows out capital and you throw it into the other investments. So I was growing as a businessman, peaceful, nobody asked me where I bought my shoes or my car. I was my own person here as there. It's not like that in politics.
POM. But when you were in East Germany you must have received more propagandistic, if you like, or more theorising or more whatever about Marxist/Leninism and the benefits of that to society. Then you walk out and turn around
MP. But you see I am an intellectual. You can stand there and lecture, I will critique what you say. That's what I will do. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about Marx or other people or what, I will still critique everything you say. And I think I understood, our group was a group of young intellectuals, we were carefully chosen for that, they understood that you can't give us fluff, you had to really come with scientific analysis and let's debate the issues and they knew there was room for us to question, to query, to agree to disagree. They knew that.
POM. Did they give you room to do that?
POM. Did anybody get up there and say, hey, every country that's under Marxist/Leninism is as poor as hell?
MP. We did all that.
POM. They're going nowhere. It sounds terrific in principle but look at the people.
MP. We debated everything. We had nothing to lose in debating anything.
POM. Human rights?
MP. We debated it, everything. They talk about human rights in their own way and they justified, you see how they explained it
POM. That's very interesting, how would they explain it?
MP. They would explain the rights of a child, how the state judges its responsibility to a child, its responsibility to a mother who has given birth. They say the west does not care a damn about those rights. You understand? They provide for the education of the babies from the kindergarten, school, everything, they train them. I will give you an example, the right of a child, the right of a mother, the awards which are given to mothers who had more than six children and all that. They will explain, they had their own way of moral and political way of defending the system. They had and they could show but fundamentally, the fundamentals were not in place. People didn't think it would collapse but now we know why it collapsed.
POM. Did a lot of debate go on in the ANC after it did collapse?
MP. The ANC had very robust debate, I think even debate. The ANC had robust debate that time, you debate yourself to death there. Very robust. That's one thing I love about my organisation, it's freedom, it's thought, freedom of expression in the organisation. It's very robust, unbelievably robust.
POM. And it's still there after four years?
MP. Yes. Don't be fooled by anybody, the ANC is very, very robust. I still have to find an organisation like that one.
POM. I know the last time we talked we talked about the media and how the media was still white controlled. I remember I made the point that Cyril is now chairman of the board of Times Media and you said, "Yes, he may be chairman of the board but he doesn't control the editorial content."
MP. He's chairman of the board, not chairman of the bores. You didn't hear that!
POM. Chairman of the Board, not Chairman of the bores.
MP. You understand what I mean. I think I'm putting it in a very strong way.
POM. I read The Sowetan every day. Now The Sowetan is owned by a company that is an Afrikaner company, Naspers. So is Aggrey Klaaste the editor of the voice of what's the opinion of the masses and articulating it?
MP. He only tries, he wants to be one, he tries. He tries very hard, I give him credit but he's not yet, we're not yet there. He's too heavy, we're not yet there. There's going to be a big struggle to get the voices of the masses. You know the papers write things and they influence, of course, a lot of people. The majority of the people in SA don't read newspapers, they don't. They don't read newspapers or if they do they don't believe them. You find that there is no relationship with most of the things they write with their daily experience. They operate in a different experience.
POM. Why isn't that on the top of black empowerment, that we need a newspaper that as a business person will sell, so you've got to have sports, you've got all the usual elements but will articulate the vision of the SA we're trying to achieve?
MP. They killed The New Nation.
MP. They killed it, they didn't give it advertisements, they killed it.
POM. The white businessmen.
MP. Yes, they killed it.
POM. When Cyril and others got into black empowerment, why didn't they say one of our first things is to resuscitate something like The New Nation, that that was a very valuable paper.
MP. But I told you they've got
POM. They went and bought a piece of The Sunday Times.
MP. They tried to control the board, not the second B. They will not be allowed to do that. As long as the people can work in those broad parameters they will allow them to move as much as they can. They will not allow them to bring up the paper.
POM. But Cyril's not a stupid person.
MP. He's not.
POM. Why would he stand for this? Does he have a longer term vision?
MP. He's got, with the best intentions I don't want to put it rudely, that thing is made for him, he must drive it. He will be allowed to do that but not more.
POM. Do you think that he should be narrowing his focus on, again, priorities rather than broadening them over a horizon of being involved here, being involved there, being involved in this and that and the other?
MP. Cyril has got his heart in the right place. You probably want to do all these things, good things, good media and everything, but he's running a business and the environment is such that it's either a business or it dies. You understand? Objective rules.
POM. What would you do?
MP. Well I don't know. If I had money I would open exactly the paper you are talking about.
POM. Let's say I'm Aggrey Klaaste, I come along to you and I say, I hear you're going to perhaps leave politics, I would like you to become the Editor in Chief of The Sowetan because I'm going to step down. I've been here a long time. How would you refashion it? What would you do?
MP. I am saying Aggrey Klaaste is a great person, I've got great respect for him, great journalist.
POM. But if he made you this offer?
MP. He can only operate inside the policy put forward by Motlana and them. He can't deviate from that. They determine exactly where the paper must go.
POM. OK, so Motlana comes to you and says
MP. I will say to Motlana, listen, I will agree to do the job provided we move in this direction. He won't agree because he might say
POM. Provided you do what?
MP. We move in a particular direction. He might say to me, listen, yes, and surprise me, or he might say, listen, would we still be able to attract the advertisements we are attracting now? You see. Will the paper still be viable, which is a very fundamental question.
POM. There are how many black people out there, if there is supposed to be one newspaper that is supposed to represent in some way the views of black people it's The Sowetan.
MP. I agree. The New Nation was even good.
POM. It was better.
MP. But what happened to it? Why did it die?
POM. Why haven't the new kind of black empowerment entrepreneurs or whatever said we must resuscitate The New Nation, get it back on its feet? If we're talking about empowerment we must give the people information.
MP. I'm sure it's coming. At the moment it's not on the table, it's not there. It would be hypocritical for me to say today it's not there, it's not there.
POM. What would you do if you were in control?
MP. What I would like to say, the control of resources, who controls the resources, but it is, our economy is still in the hands of the few and they control the media, control everything. Someone said, an American, look at your shoe, they made it so tight.
POM. We were talking about the media. So let's say you leave politics, this is all speculation, you leave politics and you're offered the job of like Aggrey says I'm stepping down, I would like you to come in and be Editor-in-Chief. Now, I assume you would say, well I will if certain conditions are met. What conditions would you want met since it is the mass circulation newspaper among blacks?
MP. I would say that we must represent the black voice, must establish that black voice and give it a platform irrespective of anything, not make compromises to anybody and deal with the black voice.
POM. 'The black voice'. And it doesn't, in your view, do that?
MP. No. It tries.
POM. Is it kind of woolly-woolly, kind of in between?
MP. It tries but it doesn't do exactly what it should do. I need to draw, it must come out. It tries very hard, you must give credit to The Sowetan. I think I like the paper. It tries very hard but we're not yet there. We cannot say that we've reached our destination. No.
POM. Well, have you gone to or talked with people like Cyril or other black entrepreneurs like the new elite or whatever they're called and said, listen, the first thing we need here is a newspaper that is going to reach the people?
MP. We talk about those things all the time. What we need is money. We address newspapers, Time Media, Caxton Group. I told them what I think, I can give you my speech on the media at the time I addressed the Black Management Forum, young executives throughout the country. I made news there about how they were reflected and everything. You can look at those papers, it shows a disturbed mind which says things are not as they should be. But I'm not the only one, there are hundreds of us who say the same thing. You must talk to the black intellectuals at the different universities who I interact with very much, very dynamically. We write books together, we edit books or we comment on this. I am part of that black pool. You must hear what they say. They say not yet uhuru. They even attack our general position on the reconciliation. I don't agree with them, they call it 'a policy of rainbowism'. You understand? Very sarcastic words that they use but that captures the intellectual minds' position, that the destination is still far.
POM. How do you see your way to make that breakthrough which would seem to me to be one of for example, the City Press, I pick up the City Press every week when I'm here and it's like a tabloid in London, on the third page a nice black beauty and then you've got 15 pages of sports and you've got two pages of sensational news.
MP. And one page of the naked woman at the back.
POM. That's right. And that's called news.
MP. You see I don't know. What is your question?
POM. My question is you talked yesterday and I listened to you all night but what you said was that leadership is about facing challenges and as I played it over and over I became more convinced and I will go on the record that you will step out of politics and say I have done my part and there are other perhaps far more important areas that we should be now concentrating on like getting messages to the mass of the people that are not either woolly-woolly, neither here nor there, education, health, what you talked about yesterday. So in my mind I already see you moving in a different direction. It comes across to me indirectly, not directly but indirectly, so I use my intuition to say, "Hm, well I think I wouldn't write about it," because I'm not writing anything until the year 2002.
MP. You know in 1997 when we went to our conference in Mafikeng I heard on the radio that I was quitting politics. And I said, "But these guys didn't talk to me." Why did they do that? Because I did not stand for the National Executive Committee position direct elections because I
POM. You already were on it as head of the
MP. Exactly. Why should I be a double membership there and take the place of someone else, deny another person an opportunity to go political, but they distorted that. I ignored it because it was not invented by me. I said it will die in the hands of those who invented it. It died. But now with this present jiving and jumping around it comes back again, as you say I've got an intuition. I said to you yesterday, and this is the meaning of what I said in Leadership, I am stating that I have options.
POM. You said that yesterday.
MP. Yes and I want to exercise those options one way or the other. I won't be blackmailed by anybody or intimidated by anybody or act in fear of anybody, not anyone, I won't allow that to happen. I will take an independent decision in consultation with my movement. You understand? We must find a way, it doesn't matter how we find it, we will have to find a way to lean towards the one side and not allowing the other option to compete and say that other one is to make a fundamental mistake.
POM. That struck me, I listened, I played the tape over and over again last night, and I said to you at the beginning what struck me was your laughter. I said that is a man who's at peace with himself, doesn't go to bed at night worrying if he's going to be premier tomorrow morning or not.
MP. No, not at all. Yes, you read me well, you read me extremely very well. I'm at peace with myself, I'm not intimidated, I don't fear anybody or anything, nothing. I'm doing a job. If someone there wants the job and thinks they must smear me, bugger them, I'm only going to do my job. Until the time comes that my organisation says we think A, B, C, and I said this is what I think, D, E, F. You understand? And then let's discuss and let's reach an agreement. I won't be bothered if tomorrow I'm back in business. I will know exactly where to start.
POM. That was apparent yesterday.
MP. I will know exactly where to start with what I have to do.
POM. I clip everything from the newspapers and put them aside, I have a file on you with all these stories and then I come and I listen to you and when you say it's like 'read my CV', that's only a piece of paper. It's hearing your voice and how you articulate your voice as who you are that is far more powerful than any CV. A CV can't say who you are, it's only a piece of paper. When you said about my goggles yesterday, remember? After your accident you said your goggles and your wristwatch and all those things, that you were naked, that what counts is you come to the realisation that what counts is the self.
MP. Exactly. That is the most important thing. Now listen, people come here and they leave. Everybody who walks out of here is laughing, everybody. And when they walk in you can see there is something hanging on their head but they walk out laughing because I make them laugh. I have no business to be asking for sympathy and I don't need that. I want my wife's support, my children's support and that's very important for me. I think I've got my God's support too.
POM. What I liked about the article in Leadership was where it talked about reconnection with your family and that you're around them, your little boy just coming out. You must give me his name, I want to send him a gift. I told him if he put the wires, the sticks under his pillow that he would receive a gift from some place tomorrow, so I want to send him something. So he said, "Wow, it happened!"
MP. You should listen to me, I am opening our legislature next week, Friday. You must tell me where you will be, I will send you my speech. It's likely to have nothing to do with what is in the press. It's likely to focus on the business of the people, that's it. I don't want to be directed and focused, I want to stay focused and do my job. I'm just hearing now, as soon as I'm finished, next week Thursday evening I start my public appearances. One evening. The following day is three speeches, it's running, running on four legs, running on three, running on the two, running for the elections to see which organisation wins. You see, you need to understand something very deep, you give so much in a struggle and you see other things so much, and some give their lives, and your emotional attachment to this cause is difficult to describe. There is nothing that can shake my loyalty, nothing. You cannot make me not believe in myself because you're lying about me. Do you understand? So you must understand that. It's a point of departure which explains the personality and it is distilled and almost defined, reckless determination to go on. And to say what is more important, if it's a call this way I will respond to that call. If there's a feeling that no, no, no, it's not good for him to be there, I would like to know why and engage in a discussion and reach a settlement which is in agreement to me and whoever is engaging me.
POM. So to come back to, in fact Patricia pointed out to me as we were driving through the potholes towards Maputo
MP. Did she drive zigzag?
POM. It took us four hours.
MP. Zigzag you drove. If you didn't drive zigzag you are drunk.
POM. She said to me in a way the most interesting question I could ask you is that, as you said to me yesterday when I asked you what did you learn or how did it change your life when you came out of a near death experience like you went through, and had to go through the pain of not just hospitalisation but operations and you start to re-evaluate what's important in my life and what's sour. You said to me take away your goggles and take away your wristwatch and take away your shirt and stand naked and the only thing that counts is you. Now, which counts more, you or the movement?
MP. The movement counts more than the individual. It's not out of our debt. I will sacrifice my life for the movement.
POM. So you're the first no matter what.
MP. Yes. That's the key thing. The movement exists in relation to the objectives. It doesn't exist for the sake of existing. It relates to certain objectives which I was prepared all the time to lay my life you understand? The 'you' would have been sacrificed in the war very easily, that 'you', but the 'you' remains very important too, very particular. I will not, because I won't try to sacrifice the movement in any way. It doesn't matter how angry I may be.
POM. You wouldn't criticise?
MP. No. I would sacrifice.
MP. Criticise, I do every day.
POM. That appears to be, yes.
MP. Well if you look at my speeches you will know that, that I do, I am not going to dim that light of free debate. I think we must keep it alive as young people. I'm not worried about that. Sacrifice it, I will not do it.
POM. So before family, as you have done once before when you were in exile, four or five years, left wife and child behind.
MP. It's not what the movement says but people
POM. I think it mentioned in the article
MP. The movement was the vehicle to serve the people.
POM. Would you do that again?
MP. Yes. Tomorrow.
POM. Four children now.
MP. Yes I will do that tomorrow, yes I will do that. If I'm confronted with the same tyrannical situation I will do what I did in the past years because more, even better understanding and more determination. I will do it. I think it was a worthwhile cause. I will do it. It explains to youth why from generation to generation the Irish people continue to fight for what they think is right. It never dies being in the soul of a human being. I am sure they understand it. The same, we will jealously guard what we've achieved. We achieved it with sweat, tears and with blood. We jealously guard it and if it is endangered we will respond appropriately to protect it. It doesn't matter what the cost.
POM. So no matter what you do if you go into business or stay in politics your commitment to the ANC and the ideals of the ANC will supersede everything.
MP. Yes. I will remain, I will not go into business and then sell away what I have sacrificed my youth for. If it's threatened we will have to defend it. If it grows, it's nurtured, we must encourage it. If anything is going to threaten it and we need to take up arms to defend we will do that.
POM. They're all in Maputo.
MP. I don't want to say where they are.
POM. I thought you'd slip there.
MP. Just one of the areas that we can - those are different stories altogether which must still be written, those stories, and I am looking forward for time to write all these stories.
MP. All these stories, many African stories. Just switch off this thing.
POM. Then I'll miss your best stories. (Tape switched off).
POM. Talking about the TRC.
MP. This general humbleness you will find amongst us, that you always say, well I did this but many others did it. All this happened to me but worse things happened to others. Do you understand? And if you always take the back seat as a person on some of these things and that humbleness is a little bit exaggerated and then it is called in the cauldron of history. We need to help people open up and not be too humble but say what happened. I don't say they must be arrogant but they must say what happened, because they can say, they can relate those stories. From the group which left in 1960, very interesting stories. I used to find them very fascinating when I was in exile. I would sit with them and ask them questions, how did you move from Johannesburg to Botswana? How did you go through Zimbabwe, it was not yet free? How did you return? What happened, what did you eat? I used to ask them stories. They told me stories. It was a difficult pass to Tanzania. Zambia was not free, Rhodesia was not free, but they went through. How did they go there? Rich history of the movement, the experiences away from the military thing, the human things and interactions.
POM. So when I sit here and talk with you, you won't tell me the stories?
MP. No, because you've got little time.
POM. Well I would come back again and again and again. I've been coming for ten years.
MP. I don't know.
POM. Am I the wrong person?
MP. Stories are detailed. You're not going for details. Stories are detailed and they must be told in their details.
POM. Is there any African historian working on that?
MP. Well we put our stuff in archives in University of Fort Hare, a lot of stuff is there. If you look at the reports they will come from over all the areas. Read some of those reports. You must focus, with so many you must focus on only one. I can put up all the reports about this area which I wrote and other people wrote and write a book alone. Just this area. And someone can put a report about other things.
POM. Are you going to write a book?
MP. Yes I am, I'm busy planning it. I wrote poetry, I committed it through poetry so I must go back now and write a book and publish it.
POM. When did you write the book?
MP. I published my poetry book in 1996.
POM. In 1996?
MP. Yes, it sold like hell all over the country, over the world, especially in Belgium, Holland, these areas. My book has sold.
POM. Oh my God, I feel guilty. Back to Exclusive Books.
PAT. They don't have it.
POM. They don't have it?
MP. Did you check it.
MP. Some CNA's still have it.
PAT. Do they?
MP. My book is sold all over the country. It's been selling and it's going to universities and to schools.
POM. So you could become the Irish Seamus Heaney?
MP. Who made this Irish poem, A terrible beauty is born? Who wrote it?
POM. Yates. WB Yeats.
MP. Yes, WB Yeats. He was not Irish, was he Irish?
MP. He was Irish.
POM. He was Protestant Irish but he was Irish to the core.
MP. Who was this other chap, the Irish poet?
POM. Well the current one who comes from Derry also, where John Hume comes from, is Seamus Heaney. Have you read any of his?
POM. I will get it for you he won the Nobel Prize for literature two years ago.
MP. Please send me the book.
POM. I will get it for you, his Collected Works. That's my get well gift to you.
MP. I write in Afrikaans and English and the book I'm talking about is in Afrikaans and it's started as a life story of myself and a projection of where we need to be going as a country, dealing with these elements of reconciliation, nation building and the challenges and the contradictions we find ourselves in now, being in power. This was the first part and the second part deals with poetry. This poetry I wrote when I was 19, 20 and of course later and until 1994, looking at the mirror of apartheid and the struggle and how we have come to where we are today and what are the challenges for leadership today. That's how the poetry is going on today in the book. That book has sold, there is no Afrikaans book -
POM. It's in Afrikaans?
MP. Yes. There is no Afrikaans book at that time that sold like it, at that time. Some of them were printing 800 and I was printing in thousands.
POM. Did nobody translate it into English?
MP. I don't know, not to my knowledge. We haven't agreed. We have agreed to these university things and schools and we have agreed to a recording in Holland with this group called The Fourth of May. That was the day when Hitler invaded Antwerp, but the group is named after that date. They asked if they could record on CDs, six points. They are performing them for the first time in May on the 4th, so I hope the elections won't be too hard, I must attend the performance.
POM. You must attend.
MP. Yes. It will be the first official recording of my poetry. It has been sung. A woman called Mrs de Wet, I read with her and she sings, we tell Afrikaans stories at functions. We laugh and
PAT. Why do you do it in Afrikaans?
MP. Like I said to you, the school where I went was very predominantly Afrikaans. I do it in Afrikaans and English. Some of the poems there were in English originally but when we did the publication they laughed and they said, "Can't you get this in Afrikaans?" It assumed a different meaning altogether.
POM. So when you wrote them first did you write them in English or write them in Afrikaans?
MP. In Afrikaans. I was the most popular poet at university. When I was at university the students who did third year Afrikaans were using my poetry already. Yes, it was published in many magazines, published for a long time with other writers. This book which is just my own, the first time I published alone. I published with other writers before. I was 19, 17 or something, I was publishing. At school I published a first poem in my vernacular on a cat in our year book, 1968 I wrote a book, the first poem I wrote was in 1968 it was published in the year book and that inspired me to write and it was about a cat.
POM. Can you remember what you said?
MP. It's there, I'm going to give it to you, it's about a cat. And they published it because they thought it was poetry and that ignited an interest in me and we encouraged many people to write poetry, many, many. At university when we were writing, many guys start to write, it is good, you have more people writing. Some of the stuff was not poetry, there was a lot of polemic which was fine.
POM. I will bring back with me when I see you again at the end of March, all the works of Seamus Heaney who the year before last won the Nobel Prize for literature and his poetry is magic, it's magic. It's poetry made for reciting. He's from Derry, the same place that John Hume is from, so they've got two Nobel Prize winners up in little Derry.
PAT. He's from Donegal.
MP. Does he write in Irish?
POM. No he writes in English and he has transformed the way language - like Joyce transformed the way language is used to convey meaning. What you do is you don't read him silently, you read him out loud and the words and the sounds of the words all feed into each other so that's where he comes from.
MP. Are we not coming to an end?
POM. We are coming to an end, and thank you. I will be back I'll send you that, I'll have it sent to you. Shall I send it to your office?
MP. The office.
POM. The other thing is, and we talked about it yesterday, I want to fax you some stuff on decommissioning but I wouldn't like to fax it to your office.
MP. You can send it to me at home.
POM. Can I do that?
MP. Yes. Let me give you my box number, my private box number, Box 22 let me write it down for you.
POM. I hope the next time when I come back that I can meet your wife.
MP. Yes I must try and make it in the evening. Come and have supper with us or something.
POM. I'd like to talk to her about the experience that she went through.
MP. She's a very lovely person.
POM. When you were away. It was so hard and so difficult.
MP. I'm trying to get the fax number here at the house.