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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

04 Nov 1999: Matthews, Joe

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POM     Minister, to start at a point I didn't intend to start at, but in the middle of the night it came to me because I had been doing some research on comparing the peace process in South Africa with the peace process in Northern Ireland and comparing and contrasting the way in which they were set up and the way in which they work and the way trade-offs were reached and so forth. But one thing struck me and it would have seemed to me that when Mr Mandela was released from prison that his first priority should have been to meet with Chief Buthelezi and try to get the war in KZN, or whatever one wants to call it, civil conflict or whatever, under control and in a way to get the IFP and the ANC under the same umbrella as a united force standing against the government. He did make a call to Chief Buthelezi thanking him for his support while he had been in prison and Buthelezi I think invited him, or he offered to visit Buthelezi, but the King did extend an invitation to him to come and visit him and to lay a wreath at the grave of King Shaka which Mr Mandela accepted. Then he first of all went to Lusaka where the ANC shot down the idea, then he brought it up again at a meeting of the ANC here where the Durban clique under Harry Gwala said absolutely no way are you going to Natal. The phrase that Mandela used to use was that they would throttle me if I went to Natal and I was afraid, as Chief Buthelezi himself has trotted out to me on many an occasion, and the result was that he didn't formally meet Chief Buthelezi for over a year.

JM     Everything you have said is not quite correct.

POM     OK, please correct.

JM     First of all when Mandela came out they did have a meeting in 1991, it was a meeting between the two Executives in Durban, that is the ANC National Executive and the IFP Executive.

POM     Met in 1991?

JM     Met in 1991.

POM     But I'm talking 1990. He was released in February 1990.

JM     Yes but already in 1991 there was a meeting.

POM     That's a year later.

JM     It's not a year later, it's a few months later.

POM     Well he was released in February 1990.

JM     Well if you allow me to finish I will deal with the sequence of events accurately. There was a meeting in 1991. That meeting in Durban decided among other things that Mandela and Buthelezi should undertake joint meetings in KZN, starting with a rally at Taylor's Halt. It is that which was opposed by Gwala and Co. after the meeting had already taken place. They objected to the idea of joint rallies with the object of making peace and, by the way, Gwala and Co. are not Durban, they are Pietermaritzburg which is important, they are a group around Pietermaritzburg. So the first thing we must correct, they had a meeting in 1991, the rally is what was opposed by Gwala and Co. and not the meeting with Buthelezi, the joint rally is what they opposed and for which they threatened to throttle Mandela – not the meeting, that had already taken place.

POM     When did the meeting – I'm working from Mandela's account, his biographer's account, and their sequence is that one of the first calls he made after he was released in February 1990 was to Buthelezi to thank him and that on that occasion he offered to visit with Buthelezi, that Buthelezi said fine and that he then also got an invitation from the King.

JM     Now that too must be corrected. He got an invitation from the king but not an invitation to visit the graves of former Kings of KwaZulu. He made the suggestion that he wanted to visit the graves and graves are not visited, they are certainly not visited with the King. So that part of it is what was not acceptable to the King. The part where he wanted to visit, that was acceptable, that was not a problem, but he added to it that he wanted to visit graves and of course traditionally they don't allow that.

POM     OK. I will have to check my notes because my notes of my meeting with – and this is some years ago –

JM     Remember you are now getting it from both sides. Let's deal with Mandela's version which is one side, you must be careful of Mandela's version of events. You must deal with someone who knows both versions, that's Mandela's version and you must interweave into that version what Buthelezi and the King say, then you will get the correct version.

POM     In my first meeting with King Zwelithini which was, I think, in 1991, he said that he had invited Mandela to visit him and that Mandela had offered to lay a wreath at the grave of King Shaka and that he had accepted that but that Mandela then backfired on it.

JM     No, no. You see the invitation is correct. The King did invite him, but the part about the graves which became a talking point later, that was Mandela who made the request that when he comes he wishes to not lay wreaths, (that is a European thing), to visit the graves of the Kings. He was not going to visit one but Dingaan's grave and he wanted to visit the graves of the Kings. Now normally that cannot be done and cannot be done with the King himself for that matter. You know the King doesn't even attend funerals, not allowed to attend a funeral, he never attends a funeral. But it's a minor point because in any case Mandela never came in response to the invitation, he never did come.

POM     I suppose my point, to go back to the larger point, after the call to Buthelezi which happened a couple of weeks after he was released, or within a couple of weeks of his being released from jail, he said it was among the first calls he made, had he met with him at that time, one on one, which Mandela said he had hoped to do before he was overridden by the ANC, but had he, using his authority as Mandela, said I am going to visit him because this is like making an overture to the government, I initiated an overture to the government and I am now going to initiate an overture to Chief Buthelezi with whom I have had a long relationship, whom I have known in the past, whom I've maintained a cordial relationship with while I've been in prison, I'm going to visit him because this war between the IFP and the ANC must stop. Do you think had he done that that it would have made a difference?

JM     I think so. I think it would have made a big difference, a very big difference. And of course the persistence, I don't think Mandela has ever been to Ulundi for that matter, never went there. He visited KZN but he has actually apart from going to the King's place, one place he never went to was Ulundi and of course he always cited security reasons, that he wouldn't be safe. That's Mandela saying that. But the point is, I think what you must do, forget about Mandela's book and whatnot, follow just the press reports and you will see the meetings and so on, the joint meeting with the IFP, then the breakdown owing to the idea of joint rallies and Gwala and Co. coming in and saying you dare not go on a joint rally with Buthelezi, this is all publicised, this is public stuff. So you dare not get it wrong and say I have got it from Mandela's book.

POM     I compare every paragraph in Mandela's book with Mandela's biography which relies heavily on Mandela's book.

JM     Because the man gets things wrong, he gets things terribly wrong. For example, even about me personally he says I was recruited into the ANC in 1948 at Fort Hare and the book is wrong because I was chairman of the ANC Youth League at St Peters School where Tambo was the Master, by the way, from 1944 onwards.

POM     So Oliver Tambo was your Principal?

JM     He was my teacher, he was our Maths and Science teacher. He was not Headmaster. We called them Masters because it followed the English public school system, so you had your Masters and then your Headmaster. But he was our teacher, Tambo, from 1943 to 1947 when I did matric. Tambo was our teacher. So you see Mandela gets things terribly wrong because I was a youngster and of course he wouldn't know me but of course we knew him and we knew Tambo and so on, obviously, as our teacher.

POM     I want to come back to that, one of the questions I was going to ask you was about Mandela and Tambo. Just to elaborate a little further, in my meetings with Chief Buthelezi I have come to realise how sensitive a man he is and particularly sensitive to being slighted or insulted or perceived slight or insult, and also Mandela's knowledge of familiarity with the protocols involved in dealing with Kings and Chiefs and the like, he would have knowing not visiting Buthelezi soon after his release and either qualifying the King's invitation to him which he knew the King couldn't do since he would be familiar with the protocols, (i) why do you think he didn't do it if he knew it was of such importance and (ii) could it have changed the whole dynamics of what happened subsequently?

JM     Remember this man comes out of jail, he's been in jail for 27 years and he comes out of jail, he doesn't even know his colleagues in the ANC any more, he had last met them 27 years ago, many of them have died, they are no longer there. So his first port of call was to ensure that his own chaps were with him on the tactics that he wished to adopt. What does he find? That the people who were released earlier than himself, Walter Sisulu and others, had not put their foot in KZN. Don't forget Sisulu, don't forget Govan Mbeki and all the other people who were released before him. They had absorbed a certain point of view and therefore were not going to go along with his suggestion. They opposed it. So he went on his rallies all over the country but the one place he was avoiding, he went to Umtata and some people said Umtata is a homeland place, he went everywhere else but he wasn't going to go to Ulundi. The other chaps also went to the various places but they didn't go to Ulundi. So the question we must ask is: what is it which made the ANC as a whole, not just Mandela, the ANC as a whole, why were they so insistent that there must be no symbolic visit to Ulundi and thereby, according to them, give credibility to Buthelezi. This is really what the question is and their answer was no, we mustn't go there, we mustn't give Buthelezi credibility. Buthelezi is or was a surrogate of the Nationalist government and we mustn't give him credibility. That was the approach which the ANC took. So whatever Mandela may have thought there was that difficulty and yet he still did succeed to get a meeting at least in 1991, an actual meeting between the two leaderships at which apparently the issues were thrashed out and everybody thought, ah! there's a specific decision, joint rallies to be addressed, the first one to be at Taylor's Halt and that never took place, those rallies never took place.

POM     Again, if this mutuality of respect had been established between Buthelezi and Mandela at the beginning and Buthelezi not only being thanked on the phone by Mandela for his support during his years in prison and his refusal to negotiate with the government until Mandela and the other leaders had been released and the ANC unbanned, but had Mandela come in person and thanked him, that given your knowledge of Buthelezi's persona, would that have created a kind of a rapport between the two, that together they could bring this conflict in KZN under control, that the IFP and ANC could work together in negotiations rather than seeming to, as they did, work at cross purposes or as adversaries?

JM     My difficulty, I have got two difficulties, you are personalising the issue and reducing it to Mandela and Buthelezi as persons and even analysing the so-called characteristics of Buthelezi, again personally. But you see we must talk politics, we mustn't base anything on personalities and protocol and all this sort of stuff. If you've had a conflict which results in the death of thousands of people, the issue cannot be one of just personalities, there must be deeper and broader issues involved in which Mandela didn't participate. He wasn't involved in the fights of the eighties, he wasn't involved. He didn't know the details of what precisely it was that took place. I don't think he even knew that such heavy casualties were suffered by IFP, well it was not then IFP, it was Inkatha, I don't think he even knew what had happened. If he did he would have been perhaps a bit more sympathetic but the impression he was given by his own followers was this: we are being killed by the Inkatha people, this is a surrogate of the NP government. That is the reality which was presented to him when he came out of prison.

POM     What would be the IFP's reality?

JM     The IFP's reality would be that the ANC took certain decisions, the UDF took certain decisions and they wanted to impose those decisions on another organisation. They would take decisions to boycott, to strike, to go on strike, and then expect that everybody else would toe the line and of course they didn't toe the line in KZN. You couldn't do that because there there was a mass movement which had a leadership which had a different point of view. If you wanted them to co-operate with you you would have to talk to them and win over their support, but you couldn't call a strike in Maritzburg and expect IFP people or Inkatha people to support the strike automatically because you have called it. You would have to talk to them and to their leadership and then, worse still, if when they refused to go along with your campaign, you then use force because that's how the whole war started. The war started with UDF people trying to force people into certain courses of action and when they resisted the conflict occurred and it has happened all over the place wherever a movement embarks upon a violent struggle and does not make sure that everybody agrees with that but tries to impose it, then you've got difficulties. That is where the difficulty occurred with this in KZN. It didn't occur in other parts of the country to the same extent although it did occur, all this necklacing of people and so on which occurred in the rest of SA, it was the same thing that people said we are going on strike, you are not striking and they come and burn your house.

POM     These are the people's courts are they?

JM     And they burn your house. This is what happened all over the place and the difference is that in KZN you had a mass movement which then resisted that and was not a soft touch, that is to put it quite bluntly, that you were not going to intimidate the Inkatha people into just going along with any decisions that were being made.

POM     What do you think accounted for the intensity of the conflict as it unfolded? Was it a matter of it beginning with UDF trying to impose its way on IFP, UDF using force, IFP retaliating. UDF retaliating against retaliation, IFP retaliating against that, then it involves families, then there is revenge: you shot somebody in my family, damn it, I'm going to go out and get somebody in your family in retribution and suddenly it develops a momentum that spirals.

JM     Well not only that, it was not only that. Then you have a third party, the government watching this and what are they going to say to themselves? If you are the head of Intelligence in SA what would you do because of conflict between two black organisations? Well if I were sitting as a director of the Intelligence Services I would say this is like manna from heaven. Instead of us having a conflict between white and black, let us fan the flames of this conflict, which they did, and there are many instances where it is recorded that if the situation was peaceful the next thing you have got a kombi from somewhere with armed men and they go and shoot up people, that sets off again the spiral of revenge attacks, you've got police chaps who were with blackened faces and all sorts of things. So I think myself that also the government played a big role and you would expect them to do that. I mean the British did it in Kenya, it's quite well recorded how they destroyed the Mau-Mau in Kenya. The Mau-Mau made the mistake of what they called the Lari massacre where they massacred a whole village.

POM     They went and massacred a whole village?

JM     The whole village was massacred in Kenya by the Mau-Mau because they alleged that the people in that village had given them away to the British so they massacred the village, instead of trying to find the culprit they just massacred the whole village. The British, of course, jumped – here was the chance, they had been saying for ages this is not a liberation movement, it's a group of terrorists who are against every law abiding person in the country. The British were able to make maximum capital out of that incident and were able to win a lot of blacks on their side which, of course, increased tensions between the Mau-Mau and now other sections of blacks. You then have the paradox that although Mau-Mau was supposed to be against the British, less than forty whites were killed and hundreds of thousands of blacks.

POM     Forty whites?

JM     Less than forty whites were killed in the struggle in Kenya. It developed into a black struggle between those who claimed to be fighting for freedom and land and those who were opposed to the methods that were being employed by Mau-Mau.

POM     I remember as a kid growing up in Ireland that a particular form of insult would be if you're behaving in a wild kind of a way, "Oh you're a Mau-Mau!" That's how I first heard of the word when I was six or seven years of age. I didn't even know where the Mau-Mau were but I knew, gee, they must be some bad people.

JM     I think that is quite a common tactic by rulers and so on and in the end they used it effectively, in my opinion, in KZN.

POM     That in a way gets to the root of things, that the ANC always says you can't use the phrase, or it's politically incorrect to use the phrase 'black on black violence'. There was no black on black violence. What there was, was black people were incited to kill other black people because of the machinations of the third force or rogue elements in the security forces but it wasn't that blacks were fighting over something, it was that the security forces stoked minor differences between them to produce this situation.

JM     Not entirely, not entirely true.

POM     That's what I'm saying.

JM     This is partially, I mean the whites took advantage of something that occurred which then enabled them to exploit to the maximum those differences. I remember, I used to write to both, I used to write to ANC people and write to Buthelezi from abroad and say you chaps, you are going to play into the hands of the provocateurs whom the government is going to send in there to fan the flames of conflict. I told them that would happen so I wasn't surprised. As it developed I thought, yes, this is it, it's going to develop from a strategic difference, from a difference of opinion, into very violent confrontation.

POM     A number of people have said this to me that Zulu culture is by its nature a violent culture in terms of being militaristic, in the face of threats or whatever they don't back off, they take the threat dead on and that part of this was this cycle of retributive violence, violence carried out in the name of you killed my uncle 15 years ago, don't think our family forgot it, we didn't, the time has come to pay up with one of your family, and that this is part of the culture.

JM     I think so, I think that is also to some extent true. Of course one doesn't want to fall into –

POM     The stereotype?

JM     Yes, into this idea that we are dealing with some kind of atavistic instinct that is to be found among certain black peoples and that there is no underlying ideological and political conflict and that it's all a question of – because everybody involved in this particular case, of course, was a Zulu, both groups were Zulus with a sprinkling of Indians, especially on the ANC side, a number of Indians were also involved. But by and large the conflict, and also the places where they took place in the rural areas and so on, was largely between Zulus, it was a Zulu conflict. You see because we say black on black, now not a single Indian was killed, no coloured was killed, no whites were killed so it was really Zulus killing other Zulus.

POM     A civil war among Zulus.

JM     Basically.

POM     But is there in Zulu clans this tradition of if there is a wrong done to our clan – ?

JM     Yes, oh yes, the Zulus are militaristic. It's a military group. The Zulus are militaristic, they will fight.

POM     So that if you do something to my clan?

JM     Well not in the sense of a feud, because now you talk of 15 years, but Zulus will respond to a confrontation, they will respond. Even if it's one chap, he won't allow a group of people to tell him what to do without consulting him and expect that he will just accept it, he won't accept it, he would rather fight and he won't retreat, he would rather fight it out.

POM     In that sense, leaving aside politics altogether or political differences, would just Zulus as a society, their structure and traditions, be more prone to engage in violent confrontations with each other?

JM     For no reason?

POM     Oh no, for –

JM     You see your suggestion would mean that we forget about the reasons and that they just have –

POM     No, no, for a reason.

JM     There must be a reason.

POM     Like you, fifty years ago you killed my father and that's been cycled down through –

JM     No, no, you're talking now of feuding. That's a very European thing, some people think it only belongs to agricultural people, the Italian and Spanish type of feuds. We don't have that kind of culture among Africans, it's the opposite. They don't keep a thing for years. The confrontation would be immediate but it won't be carried through generations and so on, we don't have that culture. We don't have that among Africans, but they will fight. The point is this that you cannot expect a group of Zulus, for example, who have not been consulted to fall in line with a decision that has been taken elsewhere. They won't.

POM     Even if it's by other Zulus?

JM     Even if it's by other Zulus they will want to be consulted about it, they will want to be persuaded that it is correct and you can't just come and say, no, we decided somewhere to do something and you must obey that. The fellow will say, no why should I obey? Now a lot of the conflict, because you were in a situation in which people were engaged in mass action, boycotts, strikes and so on which were taken by people who were not visible because they had to be underground and so on, so a lot of this I think was responsible for a great deal of fighting not only in KZN but after all in Gauteng as well where there were a lot of these conflicts.

POM     On the Reef, yes.

JM     East Rand and so on where you've got a group of people there, migrant workers, they have come to Johannesburg to work and someone tells them they mustn't go to work they must go on strike, they are not members of a union and then of course they ignore the call and they are assaulted and they fight back. It's happened many times.

POM     And over the years still do. Khumalo Road, now Buthelezi Road after they unveiled the monument there, and you would find very much that resentment of being told what to do, being used, and very deep antagonisms towards –

JM     And it goes very far back. I mean when we were youngsters in Johannesburg you had the same sort of thing, decisions being taken to strike or something like that and there would always be conflict between the chaps who were migratory from Basutoland, as it then was, from Natal, from other areas, you would find that there would be conflict between the permanent residents and the chaps who were migrants who were normally in single men's hostels, but the conflict was between those who had specifically come into the urban area to work and to suddenly be told that you mustn't go to work and a chap says why? Because there is a struggle. Now instead of the people teaching the migrant workers, which we did, for example I did that in Port Elizabeth, in PE we had struggles but we persuaded the migrants to join in the struggle and gave them reasons why they should join the struggle, therefore we never had these conflicts, we didn't have the conflict between migrant workers and the residents of the townships but it required political work and one of the leaders of the migrant workers, Wilton Mkwayi eventually became the head of uMkhonto weSizwe, an illiterate chap from the migrant workers. That's the correct political way of doing it, that you go into the hostels, you go into the migrant workers and you preach your political message and get it accepted, not ride roughshod over them and think that they must just follow the decisions that you are taking. That was politically incorrect and was bound to lead to conflict.

POM     Going back to Oliver Tambo, it's very funny that you mentioned his name because I have his name right in front of me, the first page I opened. One, when you were a student what did you observe and your observations of Tambo as a teacher, and Mandela, and your further observations when you were in the ANC prior to Mandela being incarcerated and the relationship between Tambo and Mandela, what was the relationship between them?

JM     Remember that I know Tambo better than anybody, including his wife, because I grew up on campus at Fort Hare. My father was the professor there. And when he arrived as a student I was ten years old, he arrived in 1939, he arrived at Fort Hare as a student to do his B.Sc. Already he was very well known because Tambo and Mokoena (he later became a Professor of Mathematics), Joe Mokoena and Tambo had excited the blacks by getting first classes in both their Junior Certificate and in their matric, they got first class passes with distinctions and that was a big talking point so everybody was waiting to see these two chaps when they arrived at Fort Hare in 1939. That's how I first met Tambo, at Fort Hare, and of course he was there for his B.Sc. which he got in 1942 and from there he went straight to St Peters to be a teacher and I arrived in the same year, 1943, as a student, but I knew him already from Fort Hare. So I knew Tambo very well and knew also, because he led a strike at Fort Hare in 1941, a student's strike. He led another strike in 1942 at Fort Hare, so he was very well known to be an activist. By the time he got to the school as a teacher people knew him as an activist man.

POM     So, as you got to know him, what was – let me give you the larger question and then perhaps I can focus, or you would be able to focus better on how to answer. You had the Tambo/Mandela law firm, you then had Mandela's arrest and the exile of Tambo, he led the ANC from Lusaka. Many people I've talked to who were in Lusaka stress his superb leadership, his unassuming attitude yet being able to persuade people but not asserting himself to do so, holding the organisation and building it throughout the 27 to 30 years before Mandela was released, turning it from a local struggle organisation into an organisation that was known and had embassies in almost every part of the world, that he was in a way the father of the struggle.

JM     That's what we believe, yes.

POM     Would you agree with that?

JM     Yes, but remember he already had that reputation before he went into exile. He was already a senior leader of the ANC, after all he was Deputy President of the ANC.

POM     Was he senior to Mandela?

JM     He was senior to Mandela already whilst we were still working in the country. Don't forget that. Tambo's role, in fact the reason he was chosen to go into exile was that we thought in case the ANC is banned who is going to represent us abroad and the choice of course fell on Tambo, that's the Deputy President, he's the man who should go outside if anything occurs.

POM     This was when Chief Luthuli was President?

JM     The President and the Deputy was Tambo.

POM     What place did Mandela occupy in the structure at that point?

JM     At that point, to be fair, Mandela at that point had been banned from participating in the activities of the ANC, just as I was banned. His last position in the ANC had been President of the Transvaal Province, Provincial President, so he was a leader of a provincial ANC but at that time Tambo had been even Acting Secretary General of the ANC and then he became Deputy President. But there was no doubt that the person who had the status was Tambo and of course he had the brains, that's another factor which is often forgotten, that Tambo was a very brilliant chap and a very brainy fellow indeed whereas Mandela was heroic, that's a different thing. Mandela was a chap who was courageous, fearless, a hero, a chap who was not afraid of anything, but nobody could say that he was the thinker, certainly not compared to Tambo.

POM     So what was the relationship between them?

JM     Well they were best friends, they were the best of friends.

POM     But who, as best friends, as in friendships, did one dominate the other? Was it a friendship of total equality?

JM     Yes, obviously. Nobody could dominate Tambo or Mandela, it's out of the question.

POM     Let me put it this way, if the two of them walked into a room full of people to whom would people, you know sometimes an individual walks into a room and has a presence about him and everybody gravitates towards that figure, if the two of them walked into a room together to which of them would people be more likely to gravitate to?

JM     I am a bit worried about that because, again, the thing is so personalised. My father, for example, who was a very big man in this country, he could come into a room and attract no attention, but the moment people start to discuss an issue then the intellect would immediately assert itself and he would dominate the room.  So which is better? Is it better to dominate or to be through the intellect a dominant figure in a room full of people, or is it better to be an impressive figure who the moment you start to have a serious discussion fades into the background? I don't know. Of what importance is it?

POM     I'll get to that in a minute because I'm driving at something, believe it or not. If I said to you that if the two entered a room together that Mandela's presence would assert itself more as a personality but that if an issue relating to politics or whatever came that Tambo would move into the picture and become the dominant figure in a discussion of the particular issue?

JM     The problem with all this is that of course these were well known figures. These are people who were well known and well known for a long time to the public so there is no such thing as Tambo coming into a room and not – because everybody knew when he came in there's Tambo and there's Mandela and there's Sisulu who was also, by the way, a very dominant figure in our politics. People are forgetting that, that a lot of all the things we talk about are the product of Sisulu's work and not the work of either Tambo or Mandela.

POM     Like?

JM     Well remember that he was Secretary General, was Sisulu, he was the Secretary General of the ANC so he ran the organisation and all these things we talk about, you see in those days the man who was running the show was Sisulu. So you see what you are projecting is the journalist's and not the historian's image but a journalistic image of the situation because even to reduce the thing to Tambo and Mandela is very difficult in a situation where you had an executive consisting of Luthuli, Professor Matthews, these were the big guys, Moses Kotane, these were the big chaps. We were the younger generation, all of us, Tambo, Mandela, we were the younger generation, the youth, we were from the Youth League and our seniors were very different people. So you see there's a problem there.

POM     I'm asking it in this context. I am the National Party, I'm PW Botha, it's 1985, I realise the tricameral parliament hasn't turned out to be what I thought it would be, it's created more trouble than anything else. I make a speech at the opening of parliament in 1986 where I really abolish grand apartheid by saying all South Africans are citizens of SA, if you don't want to become part of an independent state you don't have to, you're a South African citizen. But in 1985 I know, I've been persuaded by people like Niel Barnard and others, that there's no win here, this thing has to be negotiated out, you're going to have to negotiate with the ANC. Why would the initial approach be made to Mandela rather than the initial approach made to Tambo?

JM     Why would you not go to a chap who's safely in your prison? Why look for a fellow who is out of the country?

POM     But he's not President of the organisation.

JM     But everybody is talking nothing else but Mandela.

POM     Why? Now how did that arise?

JM     Remember, you see, look, let's just deal with this. First of all you've got a corps of leaders, there are many leaders in an organisation, very many leaders. And you happen to catch or arrest a group of them, a number of them and you've got them safely in your prison. Well, where are you going to start, where do you begin to even suggest anything, where do you begin? You are going to begin with the nearest people whom you think are prominent in the organisation and whom the rest of the organisation says and tells you by holding numerous campaigns all over the world that our leader is on Robben Island and must be released. You do that.

POM     Why are they calling him 'our' leader?

JM     They are calling him our leader because all those who were leaders are dead.

POM     But Tambo is sitting in Lusaka.

JM     Well how do you get hold of Tambo? What do you do to get hold of Tambo?

POM     If you're a National Intelligence Service you know how to do that.

JM     But why would you start, why would you do that? First of all you've got a chap who is leading a political movement, who's desperately trying to kill you off, that's his objective. You can't get to him, you would have to use, I don't know what methods you have to use to get anywhere near him surrounded as he is by his bodyguards, etc., etc. You would have to have a point of contact. In any negotiation, any type of attempt to negotiate, you have to take a decision on where can I go, what's my first point of call?

POM     Mandela says that he made the unilateral decision without informing anybody, even Walter Sisulu or Mbeki or Kathrada.

JM     But it was already apparent. I wrote about it, I wrote that there would have to be negotiations in 1976 already, a big article in the Sunday Times.

POM     Have you a copy of that?

JM     Well you must get it in the Sunday Times, I think it's April 12th, or something like that, 1976. Probably Tom Karis in America has got a copy, the chap who did the book with Gwendoline Carter and others, Gail Gerhardt, don't you know them? They are the leading historians on the liberation movement. They are the authors of numerous books on the ANC and on the liberation movement.

POM     Where is he?

JM     He was for many years at New York State University but he now lives in New York. They have written a great deal, that is Tom Karis, Gail Gerhardt and Gwendoline Carter, she's at the American University in Cairo, but she died. She was head of the African Studies programme at North Western in Illinois. They've written tons of – in fact most of the records of the liberation movement in SA you will find with those people.

POM     So they wouldn't be at the Mayibuye Centre, they would be in the United States?

JM     Everywhere, yes. I think they are now working on one last volume which consists of biographies and so on.

POM     That's Karis and Gail Gerhardt?

JM     They are the leading authorities on the liberation movement.

POM     So where would the best point of entrance to them be?

JM     I suppose Karis.

POM     If he's at New York.

JM     Well he retired. He lives in one of the New York boroughs, I could try and get his address.

POM     I'd appreciate that.

JM     They produced all sorts of literature on the liberation movement and they got most of the records, the original records.

POM     Where did the dynamics change, where Mandela had his discussions with the government and then Mandela was released from prison and he became the leader. He was a loyal member of the ANC but six months later he was leading the ANC's delegation at the first meeting between the government and the ANC at Groote Schuur and in Pretoria, then the DF Malan Accords, all of these things.

JM     You see, look, first of all there was no single event, there was a process. We have always believed, let's start from there, that the SA struggle in the end would be a negotiated settlement, we always believed that. That was questioned by many people who thought that the struggle must be to drive the white people out of SA and we argued with many African leaders that in SA that was out of the question, that the purpose of the struggle was to force a negotiation, that was the purpose. What you must try and do, for instance, is to get the first proclamation of uMkhonto weSizwe which was distributed on December 16th 1961 announcing the formation of uMkhonto weSizwe when the armed struggle was being launched.

POM     So you say it's a process.

JM     So that manifesto itself said that the struggle would end with the calling of a constitutional conference to draw up a new democratic constitution for SA. That's how it ended as the objective. It didn't say, as happened in many other countries, that victory in the struggle would be achieved when the white people had been driven out of the country. That never said that. So the idea of a negotiated settlement is one that had been rejected over and over again by the white governments, not by the ANC. The ANC has never rejected negotiations, it's the whites who rejected negotiations. That's the historical truth. They rejected negotiations always and always the blacks called for negotiations, historically from 1910 that has been the reality. Therefore when Mandela says we must negotiate, to you that might appear as - Oh my God! This fellow was changing the whole policy of the ANC whilst Tambo was sitting in Lusaka! But that's not the case, he was reiterating a normal policy of the African National Congress and testing these people as to whether they were sincere, whether they were honest enough to recognise –

POM     Sorry, I had interrupted you when you were saying –

JM     I was saying that what sets the ANC apart from all other liberation movements since the second world war was that their aim was to drive out imperialists from their countries, whether it's the Vietnamese or the Greeks in Cyprus or the Algerians in Algeria or the Mau Mau in Kenya, they were all designed to drive the foreign, the perceived foreigner out of their country. The difference in SA is that we had a movement here which never espoused that at all, which always accepted that the whites would form a part of the liberated SA and that therefore the negotiations will inevitably be the way in which the matter would be settled. This is what eventually got through even to the most die-hard whites that these people are not there with the aim of driving the whites out of SA or slaughtering the whites or anything like that. That was never the policy of the ANC, it was always a policy based on the need to negotiate. Negotiations were always rejected by the whites. Don't forget that. All attempts at negotiation were rejected by white governments. Not only the National Party, even governments before the NP came to power, they rejected negotiations which would lead to a democratic SA in which everyone had his full rights. They rejected such negotiations.

     Therefore, what Mandela did was he timed his move, he must have made his own analysis of the world situation and said to himself, let's see what would happen. And that is why you will find that when the people outside the country learnt of the attempted negotiations there is nobody who kicked up a hell of a fuss about it and said, hey, who gave you the right to negotiate? Nobody said that at all because it was in line with the philosophy of the ANC regarding the struggle. It had always been like that. Furthermore, you must remember that Mandela in his lifetime has never hesitated to do something which had not necessarily been fully discussed with his colleagues. He's the one who said we must launch an armed struggle before that was the policy of the ANC. He raised it in an interview with a newspaper that maybe the time has come to drop the policy of non-violence. That had not been discussed within the circles of the ANC. So he was a man who could do that, he had the necessary credentials in the organisation which would enable him to do that.

POM     That's why I come back to the original question, why when he came out of prison did he not say - our most serious problem is we've got to stop this war in KZN, this is blacks killing blacks, where the government is using us. We've got to have a united front, we've got to approach the negotiations with the government on a negotiated settlement as one unit, united in our demands and not as two parties at each other's throats. I am going to KZN. I am Mandela. I do things on my own. When it's necessary I step ahead of my colleagues.

JM     I don't think he does things on his own. When I say that, Mandela was capable of doing that, that's not to suggest that that's how Mandela operates, that he's in the habit of taking initiatives which have not been discussed or accepted by his colleagues. In fact it's the direct opposite. I think Mandela has been in many cases a person who was too prone to consulting with his colleagues before doing something. He has been too much of the disciplined member of the ANC. The fact that once or twice in a lifetime of 80 years that he did that on important occasions doesn't mean now that that was a habit. He was a very disciplined member of the ANC, he was not a fellow who would just go against – and he was not a dictator. Even that must not be suggested that Mandela was some kind of dictator, he never was.

POM     So do you think that when the history is written, and that will be down the road, that in terms of the liberation movement that Tambo will receive a lot more credit than he has heretofore received?

JM     What do you mean by that? Because Tambo fell ill and died? No. If he hadn't had a stroke, if he wasn't seriously ill, if he didn't die? Well I think Tambo would have been the President of the ANC.

POM     And would have been elected President of the country.

JM     Yes.

POM     And that Mandela would have stepped back.

JM     Mandela would have accepted that without difficulty. He had accepted it all along without any problem. But then once the man was so stricken by illness and everybody realised that he was a very ill man and he himself, he wouldn't have agreed to carry on. Tambo was a very intelligent person, an extremely intelligent man, so he would never have gone along with something which said that he must be given credit or anything like that. And you see because the ANC is an old organisation, to whom are you going to give credit? It's been the work of so many hands this liberation of SA. The organisation started in 1912. Where are you going to start and say this is the chap who really – how are you going to do that? It's the work of too many hands and the fact that there are some people who became prominent in it, I mean Luthuli got the first Nobel Peace Prize. Now is one going to say that that was an indication that Luthuli had made the biggest contribution? So I think that this, and again I stress, this journalistic notion of Mandela and Tambo and others and this personalising of things in a big historical meaning, it's an incorrect approach. We don't accept it, we don't think it's right and I don't think Mandela would accept it. If you said to him now, do you think you have made the biggest contribution? He would say factually it's incorrect.

POM     I'm saying it in the context of the propensity of the modern information age to immediately look for a person who –

JM     Yes, that's why I'm saying it's journalistic. I'm an historian myself so I look down on journalists because they deal with the immediate. They are TV, they are daily newspapers, guys who are working to a deadline but an historian can't do that, can't say actually the only person who had anything to contribute to the Russian revolution was Lenin. I mean it's nice journalism but it's not good history.

POM     So in the same context of the SA government that it might have to consider a negotiated solution, it would have begun in the time of PW Botha rather than the sudden inspiration of FW de Klerk.

JM     I think you would have to go even further back. You would have to go to the campaign of the military who started what they called 'the winning of hearts and minds' and started holding meetings all over the country trying to find out what the black people actually felt. Now when we saw that, that looked like a very interesting development but even more significant was the study by the Broederbond. The Broederbond initiated a study to discover whether the Afrikaners would survive the onset of democracy.

POM     What study was that?

JM     It was done by the Broederbond.

POM     Do you know who – was it JP de Lange or was it before that?

JM     It was I think when we had Professor Gerrit Viljoen. Have a discussion with Gerrit Viljoen and he will have a lot to say about what was going on and the debates that were going on within the Broederbond. Because you English chaps don't read Afrikaans you have a difficulty of not being able to follow what's happening among the Afrikaners and many of the English speaking people never really paid attention to those trends that were occurring among the Afrikaners.

POM     The study of would Afrikaners - ?

JM     Would Afrikaners survive a change to a democratic society.

POM     The conclusion?

JM     That they would survive. There were many pointers even in their poetry. Their poets were questioning the policies that were being followed by the government, the growth of a group of liberal minded poets like Breyten Breytenbach, so you had to read their poetry to see that they are shifting from their position. The church started to shift, the Dutch Reformed Church started to question the idea that apartheid had biblical sanction behind it. People said that's heresy, the theological scholars questioned it. So I think myself that you began to get cracks in the monolithic structure that had been created by the NP, people were beginning to ask questions from within and you can understand why. They had become big business, the Afrikaners themselves. They had started off having very little but after 40 years in power they had also built up huge economic empires and there was a class distinction among Afrikaners. There were those who represented big business and those who still represented the blue collar workers and so on and you started to get splits in the NP. The Treurnicht group split away and Marais split away, people who thought that the government was abandoning apartheid and they predicted that it was moving in the direction of a black government.

     So by the time Pik Botha made the statement, "I would be willing to serve under a black President", well that surprised a lot of people but if you had been following what was happening in the Afrikaner camp it wasn't such a surprise. It was politically, of course, indiscreet, but it wasn't a complete and total surprise.

     So I think myself that you mustn't reduce the thing to these personalities, Pik Botha, Mandela. It's far more complex developments, far more complex and once you only deal with it as a personal matter or a matter of the character of certain individuals, that is to trivialise the issue, make it impossible really to come up with an historical pattern. That's my view. You've got to be careful of that. Whilst it is true individuals played a big role in historical events but I think it's necessary for one to also temper that with the understanding of the underlying, very complex processes that go on.

     We say Gorbachev, everybody says Gorbachev is the man who brought about an end to the cold war but of course Gorbachev was leading a country and the question is why were the things he was saying accepted where previously if you uttered one word that was not in line with hard communism you would find yourself in Siberia but here was a man who kept on saying things and so on and as they went along and they knew full well that the end result would be the break up of the Soviet Union. But it's not just Gorbachev, there was obviously a whole set of very complex internal and international developments which made it inevitable.

POM     Well was it issues or personalities that led to your expulsion from the ANC?

JM     I wasn't expelled.

POM     Leaving the ANC?

JM     Well I didn't leave.

POM     You ended up in the IFP.

JM     Well remember I come from KZN and I have always worked with Buthelezi.

POM     So you were working with Buthelezi?

JM     Right through, I was always working – being in the ANC, I was always working with Buthelezi without difficulty but there were people who were opposed to that. I thought that that was wrong.

POM     People in the ANC who were opposed?

JM     Yes. And I said no, I think that's incorrect, because you see remember I did strategic thinking. I haven't got these personal emotional – I analyse a situation objectively and come to a conclusion that, well, this is how I respond to it. I don't say now look I'm a member of the ANC so I must just fall in line with everything that is said by the mob. I never did that.

POM     Now they would say you were bringing the organisation into disrepute, boot you out the door.

JM     That was open to them to do.

POM     I'm interested in that because I see this councillor who marched against Egoli 2002 gets stripped of every office just for voicing his opinion.

JM     Well not voicing his opinion but going against a decision of which he was a part. That you can't do. If you are present in a decision, you take it, you participate and you say you are in a political party, you can't then go outside and say something which is opposite to the decision which you yourself were a party to. You can't just do that.

POM     Was this the predicament that De Klerk was faced with in the government of national unity, that on the one hand as a member of cabinet he was part of the decision making process and then outside of that, as leader of the NP, the NP was trashing the government of which it was part?

JM     That didn't happen that way. What happened was that De Klerk felt that the NP wasn't fulfilling the role of opposition because they were in the government of national unity. It's not that there was a contradiction between him in the government and the NP outside. What he found was that the NP outside was going along with what was happening and many Afrikaners were criticising that and saying you fellows have sold out completely, you have now joined the ANC. And then they decided that, no, we must rather be an opposition. This is what they felt and yet even that they didn't do particularly well. The DP did better from the point of view of many whites.

POM     What happened to the IFP in the last elections both nationally and regionally? Their national support fell pretty significantly.

JM     They lost about 2%, from 10% to 8%.

POM     In terms of seats though I think slightly more.

JM     They lost from 43 seats in the Assembly they went down to 34 seats, and then in KZN they lost their majority there from 51% to – no, they had the same seats as the ANC, 34/34.

POM     If I were a party contesting an election and the majority of people across the racial divide, that includes the majority of my own supporters, thought that I was doing a lousy job on crime, I was doing a lousy job on creating jobs, that I was doing a lousy job on managing the economy, that I was doing a lousy job on education, that party would in normal circumstances go into an election saying, gee, we've a real battle in front of us, that's why other parties come into power. Here not only did the electorate not 'punish' them for their lack of performance, it rewarded them, it gave them a higher percentage of the vote than it had attained in the election in 1994 and reduced the percentages to all other parties except the DP. One, what do you think accounted for that and two, why wasn't the IFP able to capitalise on the situation?

JM     First of all the black people in our country are not a bunch of fools as many people seem to think. What they saw was that their party had come to power for the first time, was confronted by huge problems, huge difficulties, was trying it's best to transform the society in the teeth of resistance by other forces. That's what they saw. They didn't say, as the white people would say, look at crime. They would say, listen here, under the previous white government crime was rife in our communities and the white government never lifted a finger to do anything about it. They devoted 86% of the resources of the police to protecting whites and only 14% of the resources protecting blacks. Now when chaps come who try to reverse that, why punish them and start to blame them for a crime wave which shouldn't have been there if the country had been properly governed, there should never have been a crime wave in the first place? So all these things like housing, if you say to a black person, you know they only built 700,000 houses, they didn't build a million therefore we should chuck them out, well the black man would say to you, but you whites you built nothing, why should we listen to you? So there was clearly a sharp difference between the attitudes by the white electorate who then voted DP, moved in the direction of the DP and the blacks. In fact it marked a rather unfortunate divide in many ways and that is why it becomes inexplicable. A white person looking at it in the traditional sort of sense would have spoken exactly like you because if you are sitting in the US or you're sitting in Britain or Germany that's how you think, but if you have been in a place where there was no democracy for hundreds of years, then you have democracy and then you say after five years they must punish the guys who brought about democracy, people would say no, they will never do that.

POM     I agree with you and I've written about that before the election, that this is going to divide – to imagine that black people would after 40 years being under the jackboot of the NP would after five years of an ANC government say, well because I didn't get my house on time or my road wasn't built, I'm not going to turn around and vote for the person who put me under the jackboot, ruthlessly oppressed me for 50 years, it would be fantasy thinking.

JM     Absolutely.

POM     But why didn't the IFP do better?

JM     Why would they do better? Because if I were a voter and the IFP and the ANC had very little to divide them I would vote for the ANC.

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.