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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Feb 1999: Burton, Mary

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POM     I really appreciate your seeing me at such short notice, even more so now that there appears to be some small shaky peace in Northern Ireland and people in many circles are talking more and about, if not a TRC, some form of process where victims, particularly victims of atrocities in the past, can tell their stories and can find out who is accountable, which will be a much more difficult process because it's still under a different jurisdiction, nothing has changed with regard to that. Chris Patten, who is the chairperson of the Independent Enquiry into the reform of the police has found out when he's gone to communities, he's conducting a series of community visits, that over 2000 people turn up sometimes from both sides and they both rile against the police, what they have done to their communities in the past in individual cases, and it's in both communities he finds the same thing. So even though he served there as a minister at one time  he's more confused now about the depth and intensity of reaction than he anticipated when he undertook this job.

     My first question is, I suppose, a very obvious one, it concerns De Klerk going to court and the ANC going to court. They are both different and I would lay more emphasis on perhaps the ANC going to court because it seemed to me, since I was in Boston at the time and I think I must be one of the few people in the world so far who have downloaded the entire commission's report and have it bound volume by volume and indexed. I used to do it at night so the university wouldn't notice the loss of paper. Now I was talking the other day to Matthews Phosa who was again quite insistent that they were going to reply to the questions but simply that in the end they were busy with other things and they didn't get round to doing it within the time frame that you had specified and thought that was unfair that you didn't extend the date on which they could submit their replies.

     That could be interpreted in two ways; one is the kind of hubris that we don't need to respond till we see what's there or it could be just one of those things that falls through the many cracks that exist in this whole society. They admit that it was a mistake on their part and they simply accept the findings, but a couple of things struck me when I read as much of the report as I was able to get through before I had to leave. One was the almost admission of the lack of co-operation you received rather than the co-operation you received, that statements by parties were given reluctantly or were not evasive more than just didn't address the real issues that you were after. Two, that very few of the people in high places came forward voluntarily to make submissions to fill in gaps in what was mandated by legislation, which was to tell the history, get perspectives on the history of the time, and that you didn't receive much help from any side, not from government officials and not from the ANC in exile. You say virtually nobody came forward and from uMkhonto fewer people came forward to say how they survived, how they lived, didn't tell a story about what went on. The third thing was that you almost said that this report is brought to you by the generosity of Eugene de Kock, without him it wouldn't have been opened. The fourth is that I haven't come across a single person this time since I've been here, I've seen a very limited number of people but they've been from senior NP people to middle-ranking and senior ANC people to middle-ranking UDM, PAC, all the parties, I haven't found a single person who said they had read even the summary of the report.

     It comes back to the ultimate question, to what degree has the report contributed towards one of its major mission objections, reconciliation? Has it opened new divides and what do you do with the 200 people or so who were named and didn't bother to respond? Everybody in a political party more or less agrees there's going to be a political deal done and just close the book, we've gone far enough, we can't continue to let this go on. A sufficient amount of truth has been exposed to give, particularly whites, an idea of what was going on and whites have said well we've never read the report, it went on too long and it was a witch-hunt against us anyway. So what are the besides the individual applications for amnesty and the reconciliations on a one-to-one basis between perpetrator and victim and the uncovering of partial truth that was told through the eyes of those who were perpetrators looking for amnesty, and can you address that very small simple question I asked you from the very beginning?

MB     Yes, and once again I think that we are really not able to say at this stage in SA's history how much reconciliation has been or will still be possible as a result of the work of the commission. It is true that it was very difficult to dig out some of the really hidden facts until Eugene de Kock started to talk about what had happened to him and what he had done and under whose orders. It is also, of course, very likely that we will hear more through the coming year as the Amnesty Committee goes on and it is very unfortunate that the Amnesty Committee was not able to finish its work within the same time as the rest of the commission so that one had a more complete picture ready at the end. Nevertheless I think that it's a good thing that the commission has come to an end. I think it's true that the country was weary of it. The perpetrators, or the beneficiaries, as Professor Mandani has referred to most of the white community, don't want to hear any more. They are prepared to acknowledge that very bad things happened, they are no longer denying that so that is one very big step forward in our public life, that things that were denied four years ago are not denied any more but they are excused and explained. I don't think it would have made any significant difference to go on to expose more detail. I don't think it would have convinced more people or made a difference. In terms of the victims many of the victims are very angry with us at the moment. The process of reparations is very slow. They have had very little in the way of explanation given to them and the high expectations that they had of the commission have for the most part not been met. So on both sides there is a sense that the commission has not achieved what people wanted it to achieve.

     I think if we look back at it in a few years time we will have more distance from it and we will have to try and guess what would have happened if the commission had not existed at all, how much un-dealt with anger would have festered in the community and how much eager denial there would have been on the part of the perpetrators. So I think that the commission has made a contribution towards a more honest understanding of what happened on all sides. People are not able to run away from that. Maybe it's not a bad thing if people can say, now let's close the book. I don't think it would really help SA if people go on and on reliving the past and the Northern Ireland example and other examples are there for us.

POM     If the book were open on Northern Ireland today the entire police process would fall apart tomorrow. The anger is still so intense.

MB     And really what we have to try and do is stop that anger going on from generation to generation. That was the thing that struck me in Northern Ireland, was that the anger was there, yes, for what has been happening now and last year and the year before, but it also goes back for such a long time and that's the danger that one carries the whole past of a people into the future. Some time surely we have to not deny what happened, not close the book in the sense of forgetting what happened, but to stop letting it bedevil our future. I am not sure that the commission can claim to have done that but I think it will have helped to do that. I think one sees it precisely in a way in this impatience with reading the report, that people say yes it's done and it's there but I don't need to go and read it. I think victims do and I think there we still need to do more. One of the reasons I'm back in the office and working here is because we want to bring out a further volume which will consist of all the names of all the victims with a brief, very brief, inadequately brief, summary of what happened to them. If we achieve that, and I am determined that we will, it will be the first commission that has done more than simply list names and we think that that's the very least we can do for people but it is a mammoth job.

POM     I went to some of the hearings and found a number very moving. One just cried at what happened on a one-on-one basis between victim and perpetrator. How would you make a distinction between reconciliation between individuals and reconciliation between groups?

MB     I have found Ron Slye, who is a lecturer, I can't remember the university that he's at, he's been quite a student of the commission and has written several essays about it, and he makes the argument that although those face-to-face individual reconciliations were few he argues that they served as models so that even people who were not prepared to say that they could forgive could see that it was a possibility and one that one might aspire to or respect in somebody else, but secondly that they also served as (I don't think he used the word surrogates but I can't remember quite what word he used) but as ways in which the society as a whole could vicariously go through that experience. I think that's quite important because the emotional response of people watching was always very strong, people watching on television, people talk about it, they comment on it, and I think it allows them to feel that in a way somebody has apologised on their behalf and somebody has been forgiven on their behalf. I don't think one can make too much of it but I think that there is something there which in the end when some of the other things of the commission are forgotten, some of those moments will be what are remembered.

POM     Let's just go back to something you brought up at the beginning there. There was an announcement yesterday or the day before that 20,000 or so victims wouldn't qualify for the reparation of R20,000 or whatever. Now that's going to create a lot of anger out in black communities who are going to feel absolutely betrayed and when they tell their story to other people of how they volunteered to come forward to confront and what they got was a notice that unfortunately under regulation 18CE, sub-paragraph 3, you qualify for nothing, that it would be very easy for an entirely different ethic of what the whole process was about to get out there, that you have more people angry with you on the black side than you will have people who were apologetic on the white side.

MB     That could be so. The report, I am sure, will evoke an enormous response. I think our Johannesburg office has already felt some of it and our Reparations Committee have already sent a reply which I hope will be published in the media. But it's a much more complicated question than that story gives.

POM     Were they prepared to reply if it wasn't published?

MB     Well the report only appeared on Sunday. I think they sent a reply yesterday, so I am sure it will be published. When we first started in the commission we all thought that there would not be any individual reparation and I remember when we went out to talk to people about the commission and to tell them about it and to encourage them to come forward and make statements one of the things people asked is, "What's in it for us?" and we talked about symbolic reparation and we talked about community development projects that were being specifically earmarked as part of reparations. We deliberately avoided making any suggestion that there would be any individual compensation. Then our Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee started to swing into action and to investigate what had happened in other parts of the world and they made a very strong case to the commission that everywhere victims had a right to some kind of financial part of a compensation programme even if a large part of that was directed at community projects, that at least some acknowledgement of suffering was the very least that was required. And so the recommendation that was eventually agreed after much debate in the commission was this package of some R22,000 spread over six years and adjustable on a sliding scale or depending how many members there were in a family and so on and it was calculated and explained in considerable detail.

     Now that was submitted to the government but it was never debated or accepted. What was accepted and what was in the legislation was that there would be an urgent immediate payment. Now that the government has accepted and everybody who is found to have suffered a gross violation of human rights is entitled to that initial amount which is about R2000, R2000 minimum, it can be a little more if the person's, for example, physical disability justifies an additional package and that is what our reparations staff are doing at the moment, sending out letters to people, getting back forms from them and then transferring those forms to the President's Fund who will actually pay out the money. The first payments were only made at the end of last year. Now we have to complete that process and every single one of those people will get that.

POM     Was that well publicised when it happened?

MB     Yes. Of course it happened very late and people had waited nearly three years and so on, but still it did start to happen. We were afraid that it wouldn't start to happen even before we handed our report over but the things happened more or less simultaneously. The first payments were made, I think, in October, it might have been a little earlier. So that's ongoing, there's no turning back from that. But the other recommendation for the larger package over a six-year period will be debated in parliament at the end of the month. The date has been set, I think, at the 22nd, whether parliament manages to keep to its timetable, but round about then they will be discussing the TRC report and those recommendations.

POM     This month?

MB     This month. My interpretation of that report which appeared in The Sunday Times, it was clearly not the government's view, it was the ANC.

POM     Sorry, at what time? Because I think I might have been out of the country at the time.

MB     The report about the reparations?

POM     Yes.

MB     The day before yesterday, Sunday the 7th. Saying that it wouldn't be.

POM     I was in Zeerust which almost amounts to being out of the country.

MB     That was the report that suggested that there wouldn't be any payment and it's a report of the ANC's Secretary General saying that their point of view is that the reparations should be in the form of community development projects rather than individual things. Obviously it's going to be debated in parliament, obviously that's going to be a point which at least some ANC spokespersons will raise. We have to see what they decide. I will not be surprised if they turn down the idea of spreading any payment over six years. I will be quite surprised if they decide to do nothing more than this original interim payment.

POM     So it might be just symbolic gestures?

MB     Well if one looks at it from the government's point of view the prospect of administering a fund over the next six years and making payments and assessing whether people are still alive and making sure that there is no corruption at the pay-out point and all that sort of thing, I think I can understand that that might quite easily not be so simple.

POM     So the government capacity, you say many people that I've talked to say that one of the things they overestimated was their own capacity to do things. This is like one more burden that's being topped upon an over-burdened system that has difficulty coping with many other problems and the tail end of it may be that the money goes to the wrong people and it's just one more tale of corruption rather than the recipients actually receiving the reparations that were there.

MB     Well we hope that the work that we're doing which is identifying the recipients, making sure that the government has their bank accounts so that payments can be made directly and that there's no room for corruption should avoid that, but over a six year period we won't be around to keep up that part of the work and who knows whether somebody's bank account will still be their bank account in six years time. So I think perhaps if I were in government I would suggest that there should be, if there's to be some further financial compensation for individuals that it should be done once off and done soon while the groundwork that the commission has laid is still in place. But I don't know, that will depend on the debate.

POM     I was writing something the other day and maybe it's my own sense of pessimism that's ingrained from dealing for thirty years with Northern Ireland where I take what happens there with a slight grain of salt, it's here today, it's gone tomorrow, that the same basics that existed here for a negotiated settlement don't still exist there even though they have all these structures and assemblies and sub-committees and portfolio committees and you name it, there's a committee with a nice hefty salary attached so that when people make decisions about whether they will stay in the process or step outside of it, they will, the way it looks now, put a quite comfortable style against going back to almost poverty, not a bribe but I would say a very British way of approaching a sensitive problem.

     But my question: if you look now through Africa and there are at least eighteen countries involved in major conflicts, if you draw a line from Sudan down to Namibia you have countries directly or indirectly engaged in wars with massive movements of population, you have violations of human rights happening on a scale that never happened in this country, not to make comparisons but it just didn't, the concept of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission, from an argumentative point of view I would say is a western concept. Maybe through Nuremberg and Bosnia the seed has grown that there must be an accounting for the past whereas in all of these countries, which last year accounted for one of two deaths in all conflict situations in the world, no-one talks about setting up a Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

     Leaving Rwanda aside, which was a by-product of Bosnia, no-one says let's look at Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Sudan, the DRC, you can work your way down through the continent. It's like get to a settlement and just move on. What is the different imperative that underlined the process here? Is it what would be called in many circles Eurocentric or African driven leaving aside that it was part of a negotiated settlement? Other countries have negotiated settlements too and the issue simply doesn't arise. People like in Mozambique, people simply Renamo and Frelimo, Renamo took their jobs and that was that. One can take phrases out, the past will come back to haunt you, and it invariably does but it's not an African concept.

MB     I'm not really sure whether it's African or European. In fact some of the models come from Latin America, is that the west or is it the south, I don't think that is the issue so much that it is European. I don't think it was European imposed.

POM     But Eurocentric values which are in Latin America too?

MB     I don't know that it is only a Eurocentric value to wish for peace and to try and find some way of dealing with the past in order to have peace. I certainly think that it's quite an African thing to talk and talk and talk things out and certainly within Southern Africa that is a very strong tradition of dealing with conflict, simply to put parties together and let them hammer it out until some agreement is reached and the question of reparation is very much a part of African traditional justice rather than the western criminal justice system which is more a question of punishment.

POM     But can you think of any other African country in which - ?

MB     No, no, I'm just saying

POM     - post-conflict there was a commission set up by the new government, independent, to investigate atrocities that went all the way to 12-year old children going down?

MB     No I can't but then neither is there very much history of that in the western world either. I think Nuremberg is one model and Bosnia is looking at other ways of dealing with it, not terribly helpful either. I think more the circumstances were really that process of negotiation and that balance of power between the old government and the opposition forces and I think that in many other places there isn't sufficient power to force a reckoning of the past and so a new and rather fragile government simply has to struggle on as best it can taking up the reins of power and not daring to muddy the waters with what lies behind. I certainly think that's the Latin American experience in that most of the commissions either founded or stopped short, if they were attempted at all, when they began to threaten the previous governments. And I think that's one of the interesting differences in the South African one that the new government was sufficiently stable, sufficiently powerful to press ahead and not to be in danger of being overthrown by a military coup. Of course part of that was precisely because they offered the sop of amnesty.

POM     I can answer this in a way but it's your answer I'm more interested in, I don't want it to be perceived as a stupid question: three objectives, truth, justice and reconciliation and I think we talked a bit about this. You uncovered partial truth but not the complete truth. Maybe that's the best that can be done under any circumstances whatsoever. Justice, many victims, particularly the families of victims who were high profile didn't buy into the process at all and are opposing amnesty and the idea of political motivation. Perhaps the one that comes most quickly to my mind is Clive Derby-Lewis which seems to have the backing of not just Hani's family but also of the ANC, that this guy is going to stay behind bars. If I had to do it in fact I'd release him and say walk the streets and he'd be out of the country in 24 hours, I don't think he'd stick around in Roodepoort for very long. Reconciliation? I see more bitterness now from whites in particular, not just to the process but to the way the country is 'going'. Then I want to add to that this belief propagated mostly by the Archbishop that blacks have ubuntu, they forgive. I don't believe that. I don't believe that if you have been systematically discriminated against, damaged in every human way possible for generation after generation culminating in apartheid, that you suddenly turn around and say I forgive you. I think there is enormous latent black anger there that hasn't found ways of expressing itself, or is beginning to find ways of expressing itself through what some might perceive as overly punitive laws or whatever, but that anger is there and to deny that that anger is there is to deny something human that ought to be there. If it's not there it ought to be encouraged to be there.

MB     OK, let's go back to the questions. Truth, I agree, partial truth, I think significant steps forward in what was known and what is acknowledged and I think the acknowledged is a great important part of it, that it isn't denied. Justice

POM     Acknowledged by individuals more than?

MB     I think acknowledged by everybody.

POM     Well the National Party said

MB     The NP is facing an election, it has to say a lot of things, but the majority of white people no longer deny that people were tortured and killed.

POM     But they don't accept that it was being done on their behalf and that as a community they were the beneficiaries in one way or another of the atrocities committed.

MB     There's a great resistance to the definition of 'beneficiaries' and it was a very important contribution to the debate when that issue was raised that almost all white people, whether they sought it or not, were beneficiaries and that has stirred up quite a bit of white hostility, animosity, argument, whatever.

POM     That was within the commission itself?

MB     It was raised originally by Professor Mandani in a critique of the commission but was very much taken on board by the commission as being fact, that in fact many, many people might not have chosen to support apartheid but

POM     He's one of the - ?

MB     At the University of Cape Town.

POM     So he wrote it in the context of?

MB     It was at a conference or seminar organised by IDASA so they would have the text of his speech. I think people might still try to deny it but I think there has been significant change in, I'm not quite sure the word to use, the mentality, the understanding of white people and I think it does make them angry, it does make them guilty and it makes them uncomfortable, whereas just after the election in 1994 many white people were almost euphoric at the, to them, unexpected success of the elections. Now people are full of criticism and moans and groans and so on. I think that is partly a way of dealing with guilt and discomfort. Anyway, that's just in terms of the justice aspect that there is a kind of penalty that has come through the commission. I'm not talking about people going to jail for crimes; I recognise that amnesty has taken that away from victims, but I think there is a sense in which a price is being paid for the past by the beneficiaries and by perpetrators of actual violations and I think the extraordinary coincidence of Pinochet being held up in London at much the same time as we were presenting our report and the general moves abroad not to allow perpetrators of gross violations of human rights to get off scot free is very interesting because it may well mean that people who have been given amnesty by the TRC may not be able to travel abroad in any safety. There is a great deal of anxiety about that and it was something that was debated within the commission. If you've seen that recommendation in the report you will see that it's treading very carefully in that arena. We suggested that perhaps in some cases where amnesty was not granted or where people did not come forward to apply for amnesty that there should be prosecutions but that those should be done as speedily as possible, that there should be some sort of a deadline beyond which there would not go on being prosecutions and the fear of being prosecuted. Anyway, justice, a different kind of justice, yes, not the justice that we are accustomed to. But the other justice that has to come is in the form of reparations and that's still an important area.

POM     This in a way is the crux because it would seem to me that reparation mustn't represent pay-outs by the government of resources it doesn't really have, that have been taken away from health, that what you're giving with one hand you're taking away with the other hand, but that must be found that one community above all other communities were both the beneficiaries of and the organs of state that represented it and that it voted for time and time again, was behind most of these atrocities and that reparation that they accept, if they accept not guilt but acknowledgement even of the past, then the evidence of their acknowledgement of the past is their willingness to say, we are prepared to pay more taxes, of Sandton ratepayers saying we're not going to pay taxes and have them all go to Alexandra, that there hasn't been this seismic shift in attitude. It's like if the government wants to pay a couple of thousand rand to people, that's fine if they can find the money, and what we're going to grouse about is taking away from our tertiary hospitals or whatever but let's not do that whereas you must say it has everything to do with you and you must get to the point of understanding that it has everything to do with you.

MB     Absolutely, and that I think is the ongoing work of this society arising from the commission and its report, is that we need to be encouraging the ratepayers associations, the parents' bodies that are up in arms about changes in education, to say if you want peace in this country, if you want the country to develop you have to be prepared to make up for what happened in the past and that will take time. I see evidence of it in people I go and talk to. The parents' bodies in schools, sure they are unhappy about a lot of what's happened, but they're getting in there and they're trying to make things work. I go and talk to Rotary Clubs, and Rotary Clubs that ten years ago wouldn't have touched a Black Sash member with a ten foot barge pole, now are not only listening with great interest to discussion about the commission but they are telling, proudly, of the things that they are doing, which again ten, fifteen years ago would have looked much too political for them to venture into. So there are shifts but they don't show very visibly.

POM     The commission which has been surrounded by controversy through political reasons from the start and made a political football, as far as you could kick it out of your reach you would kick it out of your reach or accuse it of bias or partisanship or whatever, with its statutorily becoming non-existent to whom does the responsibility lie with trying to bring about this retributive justice, reparation not by individual but by accepting that we have to become a more equal society and therefore we have to pay the price of being a more equal society because of what we were part of implicitly, knowingly or unknowingly we were part of and therefore we have to take responsibility for it?

MB     Well I think the responsibility lies in many different places and I think that's why the report is addressed to many different places. It has to be a report to government because some of that work has to be done by government. It's government that has to establish community centres and clinics and schools and the channels through which part of that redistribution can take place, but it's also up to civil society and it's up to NGOs.

POM     And doing that and this is where they are ideally situated.

MB     Absolutely. And they are also ideally situated to help people through the discomfort of it so that if they, particularly the Afrikaans speaking churches, have a real role to play in helping people to get over the sense of being attacked, of being the victims of a witch-hunt and we've shown a way in which they can make a difference.

     There's just one more thing about responsibility. I do think that the commissioners have a responsibility as well and one of the things that we had hoped to do and we put into our budget and so on was that we would return especially to the areas in which we had been to hold hearings and to take statements and thereby raised people's expectations of what we could deliver, to be accountable back to those people and I am sorry that in the end there was just so much work to do getting out the report and so on that it didn't happen. But it still could happen if NGOs, churches, anybody, were to invite commissioners to return to those places or to travel to any parts of the country and to give an account of themselves because you're quite right that there is a great anger in people and that they have a right to have that anger.

POM     But the anger is in black people?

MB     Mainly I think. There is both. There is an anger towards the commission by perpetrators whether they are white or black, but the people who go on being poor, whose lives have not been changed at all by the new government, whose hopes have been dashed, they are entitled to some kind of donation, respect, hope and in that sense I am not opposed to the government's suggestion that reparations might come in the form of community development, but then it must be deliberate. It must be: this is what we're going to do for these people because this is what they suffered and this is an attempt to bring redress and to articulate it in that way. I think, although people are angry, where the Archbishop is right in talking about ubuntu is people are not expressing that hostility in a sense of seeking revenge. There is a great deal of turbulence, violence, crime in the country, it may have been built on some of that anger, I think it derives from some of that anger but it's not articulated like that. The major part of the crime and violence is actually financial.

POM     But the anger isn't articulated either. There is no substantive evidence to say what the motivations for crime are connected to. There are assumptions made about why it is, they're unemployed, they're this or that, but they're not saying that sometimes it's just

MB     A boiling up of anger.

POM     Anger.

MB     I think that's true and I think maybe it will be sensible for society to create appropriate channels although one does not want to increase the lines of division, the lines of fracture.

POM     Well maybe the commission has to create lines of division before you get beyond them to healing. That may be necessary to make people honest and angry with each other before they get again it's almost like individual relationships, if you conceal your anger, deny your anger, are passive about your anger, if you've a problem in a relationship then it probably will never be resolved, whereas if you go through a painful process of exploring the roots of the anger and the distance that it brings, painful as that may be, it may be the road to saving something.

MB     You see I think that that's one of the things that the commission did quite well, was to create a safe space for people to express their anger and I think sometimes we erred perhaps too much on the side of leading people towards saying that they were ready to forgive but I think on other occasions we also allowed them to express that anger. For me, all of us had our periods of breaking down in public when we heard people testify and so on, for me the example that I keep on using is in one of the very early hearings we had; the parents of a young man, a boy of 15 who had been shot and killed by the police and they came up on to the platform to speak and the mother told the story of how this child had been either watching what was going on or perhaps genuinely passing by on his way to the shops, that was a very standard explanation that we got, was that people who had been shot had simply been on their way to the shops. Whether or not it was true, whether or not they were part of an angry crowd there is still no justification for shooting and killing a 15-year old boy. Worse still nobody told them what had happened to him. They went from hospital to hospital and eventually from morgue to morgue until they found him and subsequently there was an inquest about which they were not told or they were told and they were outside and they were not even called in so they didn't have any opportunity to go through the process of having been present at the inquest. One of the commissioners asked the father who had remained silent through all of this, "How would you feel if you had now in front of you the person who killed your child?" which was quite a hard question, it was quite early on in our public hearings and we were learning the kind of questions that were helpful or not helpful to ask, and this man stood up and all his pent-up impotent rage spilled out of him. He said, "What could I do if he was here? I could do nothing. I have never been able to do anything. I was not able to do anything then and I am not able to do anything about it now. I didn't want to come here in the first place but I came because my wife wanted to come and there is nothing that can be done either to bring my son back or to make anything better for us."

     I found it one of the most powerful things that I had heard during my experiences that far on the bench. I tried to redeem this terrible feeling that I think we were all left with and I started to say that the reason that we were doing this work was in the hope that a better society could come about where when a 15-year old boy was missing, his parents would first think that he was being naughty and he'd skipped out to the movies or he was at his girl friend's house and not one's first reaction to comb the hospitals and the morgues. While saying that I started to cry and I think it was just a response to that anger and several people have commented to me about that and they said that for them that was a very important moment because they were parents of either teenage children or children who had been teenagers and it suddenly made them appreciate whereas statistics about people being killed one had got immune to. So I think that there is a very important role for that anger to be expressed and to be heard.

POM     Do you think, just following up on that, it is a criticism of the Archbishop for all his greatness or whatever, great men should be subject to the same criticism as other human beings too, that this promotion of the idea of African ubuntu and forgiveness is something almost indigenous to the African people, he's doing them an injustice because it encourages them in some way to conceal their anger rather than saying they are angry as hell and we must find ways to allow them to express their anger rather than attributing an almost superhuman quality to them by saying they're special in some way and their capacity to forgive, that encourages them to say, "Gee, I'm angry, I'm keeping my mouth closed because I'm full of ubuntu", whatever that is.

MB     I think there's much more to it than that. I think a man like the Archbishop has the power to draw from people some goodness within themselves that they might not even have been aware of and I think it's very powerful to have that articulated, those moments when you rise above yourself, and I think that is a very powerful thing to be able to do. I don't think that for a moment he would say that people are not angry. I think he's quite capable of being very angry himself and would certainly not claim that black people don't have the right to be angry. I think he does say that this country as a whole didn't go up in flames long ago because people were patient, more patient than their oppressors should ever have had the right to expect and even in the negotiations were in many ways more generous than the previous regime might have had the right to expect.

     When one says why should a commission like this work here where it doesn't work in another place, it is partly because of the people of this country who make it up, all of them probably. Maybe at some stage we would also be able to say maybe the white people were terrible but they weren't sufficiently bad to make it impossible to do this because it is very interesting that there isn't a really violent white right wing backlash. It's there but it hasn't taken the form that many people dreaded it might.

POM     There are volumes of books written over the years, many of which I have read, saying that this would happen if apartheid ever came to the end, written by eminent scholars all of which

MB     Why is it that we did have a peaceful settlement? People talk, and white people are, of course, at the moment very anxious because they think it's all because of Mandela. White people are very afraid of what will happen after Mandela because they think that only he salvaged everything, which is nonsense. One person cannot do that. There have to be enough people on both sides who will make it happen. Now how are we going to be able to measure eventually in fifty years time looking back what were the things that made it happen, lots of people coming together?

POM     It takes a long time for grievance, a sense of loss and hurt to work itself through. It doesn't happen even in one generation. What I remember when you gave your vivid example of the story that you tell about the TRC is that what I say to people about Yugoslavia, what the Croatians, when it was the Croatians and the Serbs, what the Croatians were doing to the Serbs, the Serbs were being at that point painted as the bad boys, which they still are, is that they said, you forgot what happened to us during the 2nd World War. The Croatians lined up with Hitler and we were rounded up and summarily shot. We were on the side of truth and justice and democracy and freedom and they were fascists. So what do you mean when you're accusing us of crimes against them when they wiped out large numbers of us and the world simply just wrote it off in a by-line in an international treaty. So the past does repeat itself.

MB     So the trick has to be how do you deflect it so that it doesn't repeat itself.

POM     Do you think, and this is informational, you probably haven't had time to even glance through De Klerk's biography, it's an exercise in self-justification and is devoid of any real acknowledgement. While acknowledging that bad things were done it's as though a third party were telling the story, not he himself. On the other hand when one talks to him he's a very sincere person who has sworn to so many people in my limited circle of NP people, that he had nothing to do with it, did know nothing. His idea of setting up a reconciliation commission, well he's the wrong person to do that for one monumental error in simple judgement of what human nature is about. My comment is, could some of the commissioners come together and establish a foundation that would not just deal with this country but would be a source of facilitation for other countries going through conflicts, and again it's like the lessons learned, this is what we did, it worked in this respect, it didn't work in other respects but this is how we went about it and this looks like what it achieved and maybe give you some ideas of how you should go about looking at your problems. Dealing with the problem of reconciliation, this will take five minutes or less, it is being avoided by all inside government that's perceived to be all on one side and somebody else is perceived to be on the other side, that you still, despite all the allegations hurled at you from every side, it's given you more credibility than you ever had.

MB     There was a very strong suggestion that came from within the commission, I don't remember exactly when but before the commission finished it's work, about a year ago or maybe more, that an institute for, I think it was called something like 'change, memory and reconciliation' should be established and apparently there had been quite a bit of planning done by several commissions to work towards this and it evoked a great deal of public anger from the NGO sector who felt that the commissioners and staff members involved were using their position within the commission to set up nice jobs for themselves afterwards. And there are various NGOs who work in the human rights field and they said surely this is something that should be in open discussion, it shouldn't simply be the commission perpetuating its life for a few of its members. So it rather got knocked on the head at the time and it was certainly acknowledged. The trouble was that the commission was at that stage, we never realised it would go on that long, so it was people who were thinking ahead, what are we going to do after the commission's finished its work? Probably entirely good, genuine motives but the public opposition rather damped it down.

POM     Not the public but the opposition from good, concerned people who belonged to other organisations were saying you're encroaching on our territory.

MB     Yes, but also even within the commission there was a concern that there was a potential conflict of interest, that if one was raising money to start a new foundation while you were working in this commission it was not entirely correct. So it was agreed that it would be put on hold until the commission was at an end and presumably people are thinking about it.

POM     I will come back to you again because this is occupying a lot of my time now, particularly the memory aspect. An aspect I think we glanced on before but never got into was the whole question of suppressed memory as it works in incest cases where, at least in the States, it's such an important, has been accepted that you can be violated as a child and not remember a thing about it until you're in your thirties or forties. So on most crimes a statute of limitations works out at seven years. A landmark case was where the father took an action not only denying but saying legally the statute of limitations for action against him had run out and the courts ruled that in the case of incest that the statute of limitations began from the moment of memory, not from the time the crime was committed and the whole question of how memory works, on what basis, what's remembered, what's not remembered. It's just one of the things I'm getting into because I know in Ireland we have to go through this some day and we're not ready for it but the planning ahead must start being done and I would like some time if you would consider going there and meeting with some people who have already for years been working on issues like this, whose whole work has been totally unacknowledged. Oh, those people! You know.

MB     Have you talked to Michael Lapsley at all, Father Michael Lapsley? He was one of the people who testified to us, he's an Anglican priest. He used to work at the Trauma Centre and he's now started an institute, I can't remember what it's called, Memory & Reconciliation or something like that. He received a parcel bomb sent by the SA state. He had lived here, he had then gone to one of the neighbouring countries, Lesotho I think, and lost an eye and a great deal of his face and both his hands.  He's a very interesting man dealing with aspects of forgiveness, conditional forgiveness dependent on repentance and atonement on the part of the perpetrator, dependent on interaction between the two and they do a lot of helping people through healing of the memories workshops and that sort of thing.

POM     Where is he?

MB     He's here in Cape Town. I might even be able to find a phone number now.

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.