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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

08 Nov 1999: Makgoba, William Malegapuru

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POM     I am going to read two passages to you from two different studies and then just look first for your comments on them, and I do part of the interview that way and part in more direct questions.  One is from The Prologue to African Renaissance - The New Struggle, in Mandela's address to the United Nations in 1998, he said:

     "We (that is Africans I assume) must fight against the deification of arms, the seemingly entrenched view that to kill another person is a natural way of advancing one's causes or is an obviously correct manner by which to resolve disputes."

     Are we taking here that that comment would be an entrenched view of the west or a Eurocentric concept of Africans themselves? That's number one.  And two, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London based, in the last twelve months to August 1999 there were ten international and twenty-five civil conflicts which had been fought throughout that period. Eleven of the civil wars were in sub-Saharan African and about 60% of all deaths from conflicts occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Arms exports to the regions had nearly doubled and three quarters of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa were engaged in armed conflict or confronted armed conflict. While the sale of arms to sub-Saharan Africa had increased by 14% in the year but the rate of growth in the economy in the collective countries was just hovering around 1%. So this is an arena of an awful lot of conflict and conflict has been pervasive since post-colonial days in Africa and especially in sub-Saharan Africa. How does the issue of conflict and renaissance - how do you reconcile the two? What is the basis from which these conflicts arise and continue? And before there can be any renaissance on a renewal in terms of economics and social development must there first of all not be a cessation of violence and is that a cessation of conflict and is not that the first priority and if so how is that gone about and achieved? It's slightly more than one question I know.

MWM     Yes, but I think you can also look at it this way, that I think the continuing conflicts that are endemic or pervasive are actually a necessary condition for one to look at the renaissance of Africa, that if you were to take maybe a single parallel in Europe that I suppose part of the renaissance was the disorder and confusion within Europe around the mid 12th and 13th centuries.

POM     And 16th and 17th, the religious wars.

MWM     I think part of the renaissance it's really, I guess, a call towards something that disrupts society, so it may be that the conflicts in that way I think are absolutely perhaps critical for those leaders that see a different future for Africa to begin to address it in that matter of a renaissance. So a renaissance may be one part of the solution towards the conflict rather than say let's call for the conflicts to resolve and then we start the renaissance. It is actually they remind us how urgent and important that such a thing should happen, at the same time because I think it will show the other side of Africa.

     Now the quotation by Mandela, I think it also has two answers to it: yes I think it is a  perception that perhaps we tend to resolve our conflicts through killing each other but equally I think what he was trying to say was that maybe we should try and attempt to reverse and prove people wrong, that that is not how we want to resolve issues. I think there are two sides to that kind of answer. I think it was in the other sense saying, well, the perception has built up in one quarter but that perception doesn't necessarily need to be correct and we have the capacity and the ability to show that it is now that way. I think that's the way I would read it.

     The reason why wars and conflict are endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, it's a very difficult one for me to really answer. First of all I'm not a historian but for an ordinary citizen such as myself I really do believe that the source of endemic war has to do with the leadership and the reason for the leadership that has been chosen in Africa. It has always been a surprise to me that sometimes the leaders in Africa have not been chosen by Africans. They have been imposed by foreign powers that want to exploit something in Africa.

POM     Would you put Mobutu in that category?

MWM     Yes, those kind of people. Many leaders were not necessarily chosen by popular choice. You would remember, for example, in the Zimbabwe Lancaster Gate, the British tried very hard to put Nkomo as the successor, as the first President of independent Zimbabwe and it has always been that when the colonial power leaves it puts someone that they are comfortable with rather than someone that the majority of the people are comfortable with. The reasons for that have always been either to exploit some little resource that still goes back to the mother country or, I think, to maintain control rather than simply handing over power to the Africans. So I think the source of war in a simple-minded person like myself has been the way in which Africa has chosen its leadership.

POM     What do you think, it's been explored by a number of writers but I would like just to hear your opinion, of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed, that in many post-liberation societies the tendency in one stage of the transition is to imitate the ways of the oppressor rather than to eliminate them?

MWM     Yes I think that is correct. We are experiencing it in SA. We have gone into a new dispensation in SA but we have not yet changed the rules of the game. We are actually using the old civil service and most of the rules of play in the civil service are the rules of the oppressor. So here we are, we have a government that is elected by the people but it's using the structures and the ideas of the old civil service and that perpetuates the tensions because then the ordinary person does not feel that much has changed because they are still experiencing the same thing. I think it's those kinds of delays in the changeover that create the tension that ultimately builds up to a point where they are not easily corrected because they provide too much division within society. Say post-1995 up to today, many South Africans if you speak to them will tell you that very little has changed because, I think, the rules of the game are the rules of the oppressors. The new dispensation has not yet produced the rules of the game. They may have promulgated laws but those are not yet in the phase of implementation, and five years for people who have struggled throughout their lives, it's a long time.

POM     So in one sense, and my comparison would be with Ireland when it got independence from, or part of it got independence from Britain in 1920, it was a negotiated settlement so it wasn't a question of a revolutionary government taking over. In fact they took over institutions that didn't change a bit for twenty or thirty years. One day you were a British civil service and the next day you were an Irish civil service, all the post-boxes that had been painted red were painted green. That was the revolution. Would it be true in your mind that the ANC did not reach a revolutionary settlement but that the settlement was made in the context of a sufficient number of constraints that have precluded it in many ways from taking the radical measures that were necessary to transform society?

MWM     I think that is correct, that's a correct analysis. I think that's what most people have said and that is why I think people in this last election thought that they voted for Thabo Mbeki to be able to ultimately translate the ultimate goals of the liberation struggle. That was really what they saw because they recognised that Mandela's era had too many constraints that were called sunset clauses, it was an important negotiated settlement in order to get too much of the tensions away and slip into darkness. But I think in the process of that too many fundamental principles of the ultimate goals of the liberation struggle were sacrificed and in this election it is hoped that the new President will articulate that differently.

POM     I've got lots of questions which could go all day and I know you don't have all day.  Debt relief is an overriding consideration, the huge imbalance between the north and the south and the north at some point must do something or else someone's going to develop a little bomb and fire it north and say screw you, let's see London go up and maybe they'll pay more attention. Yet when the west or the northern hemisphere talks about debt relief, whatever, it does so with attaching all kinds of conditions to it, so it says we will give you debt relief but you will do it our way, which is another form of colonisation. When the IMF and the World Bank give loans, or the Washington Consensus and so forth, it's you will get loans and whatever but you will do it our way. Now in one sense there has been no greater practitioner of the IMF/World Bank/Washington Consensus approach towards macro-economics than SA. It has embraced it fully and completely to an extent that even Mrs Thatcher on occasion might say their economics are even more stringent in cutting expenditure than I ever was. You have great pride taken in Trevor Manual becoming Governor of the World Bank and of the IMF for a year, but it is falling into a mode of macro-economic policy within which it is very difficult to deal in significant ways with inequities and inequalities without a growth rate of 7% or something like that, which is not going to happen. People are talking with great hallelujahs about a possible growth rate of 3% next year and SA is on its way up and the economy is booming and 3% will keep you really where you are.

MWM     Your analysis is correct, except maybe I do know that people in the World Bank don't think that SA has embraced them as you put it. I think there are a lot of reservations about that. But it is equally correct to say that I think the economic policies that the ANC has adopted makes it very likely that issues of equity will be addressed within the shortest possible time. The policies adopted will ensure that it takes a long time to address matters of equity and I think these are some of the contradictions that we find within government. Also one has to ask why were those kinds of strategies adopted and I believe that it was out of fear, it was out of a government that had no balls. Remember that people when they came into government had never governed, they had no experience of what governing is and they were told that if you go on all this social agenda capital will simply fly out of the country and you would have no guaranteed loans and so forth and the country was then also bankrupt, it had had no growth for the last ten years. So I think it was not an economic policy they adopted lightly but there were reasonable reasons at the time to embark on that kind of policy.

     I think the challenge for me is not so much that they adopted the policy but it is how long they keep justifying that policy now that I think they have generated a sense of confidence that they can govern, they have learnt the experience of being in government and they have built a couple of networks and friends throughout the world who can say, look these people actually know what they are trying to do so if they change their policy it will not be the same disaster as if people were thinking terrorists are now coming into power and they are just going to loot whatever little is in the country. So I think that the balance of when to change and shift gears is more critical than criticising the current policy because I think there were reasons for them to go into this kind of policy.

POM     Let's put that in the context, and again this would be in the context of the African ability to assert itself, not be marginalised, and that is to take even SA and put it in the context of globalisation where what are called market forces, whether they are or not, dictate where resources go, where capital goes and there are so many external constraints of what any individual country, not just SA, can do that it's almost as if SA became a truly sovereign nation just at the time when the concept of sovereignty is losing its relevance in a global world. To what degree do external constraints restrain the direction in which you would like to see things move?

MWM     Quite a lot. I would say quite a lot but it is also important to say, you mentioned that Africans want to assert themselves.

POM     I meant that in a positive way, not being marginalised.

MWM     Yes, I am trying to get that. If Africans have to assert themselves, you can only assert yourself when you have some kind of track record or when you have a few friends that you can take along that would support that you can assert yourself in the global arena today. So for SA that record did not exist for Africans. I think that is one. The second point that you make in relation to external factors being a restraining factor, remember that the SA struggle although it is owned by South Africans, it was an international struggle and I think South Africans recognise that, that without the support of the international community that either harboured them in their own countries, that gave them financial resources, gave them platforms to build the campaign, was an important aspect of where we are. As such I think SA's liberation is maybe one of the single few babies of an international effort, so that becomes very, very crucial. It is one country that was liberated largely by an international effort.

POM     Now in countries surrounding here that I've travelled in over the years and we found an increasing hostility towards the new SA, as SA throwing its weight around and acting as superior to people in other countries. I heard one well placed story that some officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs said, "No I don't want to be posted to an African country, I want to go to a European country, I want to go to America or Australia. If you want someone to go to an African country send a white person for God's sake. I don't want to live in an African country, I want to be where the action is." Then there was this series of articles in the Mail & Guardian over the last couple of weeks called 'South Africa as the Yankees of Africa' and that had some very pointed comments about the way in which SA treated Africans in other nations. In the streets of Johannesburg if you talk to traders who are from Mozambique or whatever, they will

MWM     I have been party to those debates you know.

POM     I know yes. Where and how does this sit? The South African renaissance, it's SA perceived in a sense as being South African led, even though I remember you at the conference going out of your way to say it must not be seen as South African led. There are a lot of perceptions out there that this is a South African idea, the engine driving it is South African.

MWM     You would agree with me that Africa has maybe got two countries that are very powerful, Nigeria and South Africa. I think people recognise that. Nigeria's power was only limited when it enjoyed civil wars and it was fighting itself and now it's beginning to settle down. SA I think is economically a very strong country and it is the last country that achieved liberation in a very unusual way for African history and as such I think it has always been viewed with suspicion, even before the liberation. So this is nothing new.

     Let me come to maybe the most blunt of all the suspicions. SA is the only African country that has got white people who are African and that is also a big issue because I think as a country we have taken a decision to form a new society out of something that was completely unexpected. We lived through the past era being racially divided, being told that one is inferior and the other one is superior and then here we Africans come to negotiate and say no, we are all together in this boat and we are equal. No South African has said let's stuff the whites out and send them back into the sea. And being the only African country that has constitutionally decided to form a new society out of Europe, India and Africa, it is a complex issue and I think for a simple country, like say Zambia or Malawi or Kenya and so forth, it is something that they still find very difficult. They sometimes blame us blacks for not hitting the whites too hard. Part of it lives with the colonial legacy of white people. How can South African blacks who are like us in Africa, when they reach the end point of their liberation, accommodate these people who have oppressed them for 300 years and still want to live with them as citizens and nationals of the country? That is the anger that Africa has.

POM     The rest of Africa has at you?

MWM     Yes. But on the other hand, and this has never been said by anybody else I can tell you, on the other hand SA benefits from the rest of the world, especially the western world because it has got white people. They are a good card for a lot of what happens in SA. Sometimes we don't understand that. The fact that there are white people here it has its own benefits in terms of the overall movement of colonialism, that although, I think, Holland and Europe would accept that there are Afrikaners here or the French, somehow they are tied to this country in a very different way than they would be tied to Malawi or Kenya or Guinea-Bissau. They would see no white people there. I think the perception of colonialism and racism allows SA actually to benefit from its own racial divide that has come together in terms of how the west perceives them. So on the one hand our black brothers don't understand why we, their black brothers, have kept you guys around and on the other hand the white brothers who sit in Washington say we can't let these guys be stuck alone in that jungle with those gorillas, we can at least give them some money, maybe they will come together and form something. You can say it's the best of the shit of both worlds but that's how SA survives.

POM     One of the things that struck me in your own writings was the distinction you made between the African 'connection', if you want to use that word, with the Afrikaner and the African lack of connection with the white English speaking 'liberals'.

MWM     Whatever they call themselves.

POM     It seems to me that the Afrikaner doesn't know what you think in the same way that you have a better understanding of the future of the Afrikaner. They say you've marginalised us, saying we weren't Africans. You're saying, no, we accept you as Africans but they don't kind of accept your acceptance.

MWM     I think they haven't come to understand that but I think that comes because they believe I shouldn't be accepting them because of what they have done and as such I think it's not easy for me just to say I accept them and they agree. With the Afrikaners because of their own guilt feelings of their past I think they want more reassurance and I think they will come to understand that.

POM     So there you have the Afrikaner. Now you've got this bunch called white English speaking liberals who would say there was Helen Suzman who was sitting in parliament, pointing out everything the apartheid government was doing. Then it was the Progressive Federal Party and then the Democratic Party always saying what was wrong, what was wrong, what was wrong, and we were always against apartheid. Now the Africans turn around and treat us as shit, they don't appreciate that we were on their side.

MWM     But that's what I would expect from having lived in England, I expect that, nothing else. What else can I say?

POM     You can at least follow Manchester United.

MWM     I know, that kind of thing.

POM     Were there two kinds of superiority, the superiority asserted by the Afrikaner which was the jackboot, bang, over the head, and the superiority or dominance adopted by the English speaking community who in apartheid days could be a voice against apartheid but they were 'in the leadership positions' who could be telling Africans and blacks what to do, this is the way the struggle should be run and then you move in and say, thank you but we don't need that kind of advice any more.

MWM     Yes. When you do that it's like they don't understand, they don't understand. Do you speak Afrikaans?

POM     No I don't but I speak Gaelic.

MWM     OK. There is a language, there is a word in the Afrikaner community called 'soutpille' and what it means, this is how the Afrikaner describes the English, it's somebody who has one leg in Africa and another leg in Europe with their penis hanging over the sea and you know sea water is salty so dipping in the sea. That's what they call them. That's the description of how the Afrikaners describe the English. It's not commonly used, it's quite derogatory but that has been consistent, a double-standardness of English speaking people in Southern Africa so they were described in that manner.

POM     A man I'm seeing later this afternoon is Niel Barnard, the former head of the CIS who met with Mandela, and the first thing he says when you walk in is, "I'm an Afrikaner."

MWM     Ask him what is a 'soutpille'.

POM     I'd better put it down here on top, do it phonetically. He says, "I'm an Afrikaner, my starting point in the history of my people is that we were colonised and brutalised by the British and 30,000 of our women and children died in the first concentration camps that were set up, and that's where I start from." So here you have a people who have been oppressed by the Brits, then who turn around and oppress another people, rather than having sympathy with their oppression turn around and oppress them to an even greater extent while still considering themselves the victims of oppression. The Afrikaners don't see themselves as dominant in the sense, they see themselves as having fought to get to a position of asserting themselves but in that sense they still have historical legitimate grievances that haven't been addressed, so when you start talking about your grievances they start saying, what the hell about our grievances? The Boer War Centenary is aggravating these kinds of things. What would you say to an Afrikaner who says you talk about what we did to you but you should see what the British did to us?

MWM     Yes but I think the important thing, as I say, at the moment is that we are all trying to construct a society in which we all have grievances of one form or another historically and we are trying to address that. The question is, what is the equation today of addressing that? The equation today in SA is that blacks are in the majority and when they are in the majority I think they have to run some kind of agenda within the limits of our constitution that has been drawn jointly, and I think it's important that we address all these issues along the framework of what the African or the black people were struggling for when they started it off. We have also been oppressed by the English so it is nothing new, we have had double oppression. At least they have oppressed us but we have had double oppression. Now we are trying to formulate a framework around which we can reconstruct a new society and address some of, I suppose, the injustices that took place. I think that's how I would answer that but that framework has to have a large component of Africanness in it, of where the Africans want to go at this time.

POM     But Africans as black and white?

MWM     As black and white because I think it is about your historical and cultural attachments that you become who you are.

POM     Do you think whites who regard themselves as being South Africans, saying my family like Barnard said he was at one time beside Bill Casey's (the guy who used to be head of the CIA) wife at a reception and Mrs Casey turned to him and said, "How long have your family been here from Europe?" And he said, "I am the ninth generation of a soldier of fortune who landed on the shores here in 1692. How many generations has your family been in America?"  She turned to talk to somebody on the other side. One of the things you put emphasis on is African language, the importance of language.

MWM     And Afrikaans is one of those languages.

POM     That's right, it's one of the things they put tremendous emphasis on to Mbeki's marginalisation of their language. Now at the same time as you talk about the English, you see the language that is winning hands down is English. You have Penuell Maduna saying the courts should just use one language of record, English. We last night were guests at a dinner here where the Superintendent of Hospitals said that all the circulars that come around now are all written in English, they don't come in both languages. The media are increasingly English oriented, the entertainment that comes into the homes of people living in townships is Murphy Brown, the Cosby Show, American soap operas, British soap operas. You have this, what Yates referred to as the 'filthy tide of Anglo-Saxonism' forming in that context. Where do you place language if in schools it becomes the predominant medium of instruction? This goes back to your point about curriculum development and the Eurocentric content as distinct from an African content.

MWM     We obviously are in a period of transition where a lot of things are being debated as to what are the options that we need to make choices about. It is possible that in the transition period English will become the language that everybody is comfortable with because it is not owned by anybody who has power in the country. I think one must remember that, as much as the English bark a lot they have no power in SA and as such their language has no way of manipulating power within people. I strongly believe, and I understand, that the majority of African people in this country don't live speaking English. I don't speak English when I'm in my village. You would never hear it. So the majority of people here speak their own native language and those languages are going to be developed and at some stage or another it will become a constitutional obligation that they get used. So I see the English as a transition language.

POM     Right now you've eleven official languages in the constitution but one language enjoys it's first among equals so to speak.

MWM     And it does that because it has no power. Once you bring Afrikaans the Africans think of just the previous power that ruled them. When you bring Zulu they think about another power that may rule them. So English is by default the lingua franca that we use, but I think fairly soon, over time, I think the African languages and Africa is included, will become languages that find their own market place within SA and they are accepted without people querying them.

POM     Maybe an analogy I might draw is Quebec, speaking of French and English, whereas in Montreal you speak in English and you're likely to be whacked over the head.  It's not a matter of the person not knowing English, they're just not going to speak it to you.

MWM     So I think there will be times when

POM     Is language one of those overlooked but potential sources of conflict and that people's concerns about language ?

MWM     I don't think it's overlooked. It doesn't have the drama of violence and crime but actually it is not overlooked. I think the President has actually taken this matter very seriously. He has been doing rounds and consulting various people about this. I know that he has instructed the Council of Higher Education to make a ruling about this issue of language so it is a very important issue. It is not explosive but it doesn't mean that government has not paid attention to it.

POM     There are two things working, in one sense, parallel to each other and maybe in opposition to each other and that is that as the indigenous languages here become more developed and more widely used, at the same time in terms of globalisation you have English has won the 'war' against French, English is the language the world increasingly turns to.

MWM     It's a language of communication.

POM     If you look at mass entertainment like television, whatever, as in a way inculcating values, if there are values someplace in those comedies or programmes like Law & Order whatever they are, those are things that are being beamed at young children as they grow up if they watch television far more so than African values or traditional values. Do you know what I mean?

MWM     I understand what you mean. It's a battle. I suppose it's like China or any other country where the majority of people in China don't speak English but they do receive CNN and so forth. I think it's something that countries have to decide as to what is allowed and what is beamed into their own countries. It's not going to be simple that I think every country will allow English to become a medium of entertainment and also it is not clear in my mind that in the future as societies are learning from each other, some of the things that you think are being by English people are actually not English values. It's not necessarily a fact that something which is presented in English is actually English value. It may be American, it may be Russian.

POM     It's more likely to be American.

MWM     The fact that the medium is being used does not necessarily mean that everything that is transmitted through that medium is actually coming from the value of that medium. So it may be used even to transmit African values but maybe the medium would be different, just using that as an example.

POM     I'm not looking at the current situation, if you flip through channels, 1, 2, 3, 4, and look at the imported programmes. They're second-rate American soap operas, third rate English soap operas, pilots from programmes. The level of American television is so low you wouldn't think it could sink lower until you see that what was rejected over there as being not good enough, wasn't low enough, turns up here on television.

MWM     But also to make a judgement about the future of this country in a period of turmoil like we have in terms of debating our own values I think would be a great mistake.

POM     But kids are watching that.

MWM     It's OK, life has to carry on. It's just like to assume that because there is current violence this could not be part of the way SA is, I think is a mistake. We're living through a very important part of our life. We can't say that there is no violence, it's there but you cannot simply make the prediction that because it is there this is how South African society is going to be into the future. So the fact that cheap American soap operas are able to slot themselves here, of course I think they do have an influence but I guess when the language boards and the policies of censorship and looking at what must be filtered into a society comes into proper structures these are the things we will see.

POM     How do you differentiate between the values of a mass consumer society on the one hand and African values on the other?

MWM     I don't think it's fair to I think African values are also consumed by masses. People here play jazz all over the world, they don't realise that it's an African value. There is only a form of jazz in Africa. Maybe Africans haven't gone around and said what you're playing here in African. So I think values are not easy sometimes to locate where they actually originate from.

POM     I'm talking about consumer values, like baseball.

MWM     Rap music, where does rap music come from?

POM     It certainly doesn't come from America.

MWM     OK. I'm just saying my son is a rapper and he grew up in St Albans and he had a band and the lead singer of the band was a Jewish boy and the name of the band was Uneducated Niggers. You can imagine when his mother heard that this was the lead singer, a Jewish son singing in a band called Uneducated Niggers, how she must have felt. I think what I am trying to say is that I think the consumer values of today are actually very difficult to locate in general where they are coming from. I know that a lot of English parents were very angry when rap came into England because they felt that they were losing their children to black culture, especially in London, to the West Indians. So there has been such an intermingling of some of the so-called consumer values that they are actually very difficult to locate whether they are western, oriental or whatever. They just happen to be things that I think one can't locate but there are values in society that I suspect are going to be dictated largely by institutions such as the churches, such as the universities, such as schools and so forth and those will also continue to compete with the so-called consumer values of society, so it's a balance between the two rather than being predictive as to what will dominate.

POM     This is just for quick comment. This is from a book called 'Ironic Victory' edited by RW Johnson and David Welsh, it's 'Liberalism in Post-Liberation South Africa'.

MWM     I know, I've got a copy of the book.

POM     What I want to say is the connection between liberalism, what they see as liberalism and what you see as Africanism. Well today I met one of the DP members and he said what I believe in, and then he picked up the constitution, "They are my values. It's a liberal document, whether those who have disdain for it or not, I'm proud of it and that's what I call being a liberal and living up to what's in that constitution."  In their book they say, they just give these values as the core values of liberalism are:- a commitment to fundamental rights and those procedural safeguards known as the rule of law, a commitment to constitutionalism, meaning that state and government are to operate under the law and that certain fundamental principles must remain beyond the reach of any government. A belief in equality and the dismantling of entrenched political, economic and social inequities. The emphasis on the primacy of the individual as the possessor of inalienable rights. By no means, as critics said, unmindful of the need for and claims of community. Tolerance of conflicting viewpoints, tolerance being the natural outgrowth of the right of freedom of expression but it's centrality in liberal thinking requires that it is regarded as a separate principle. Are there any of those principles that you would have any difficulty in saying I accept them?

MWM     I find them too many to call them core principles. You can't have, they're almost like it's everything, so it tells you that it's not a very good definition. They don't know what they are talking about. I couldn't say it distinguishes anything from anybody. If you went into an African society you would find that all those things in different ways they are being defined as some form of value. They may not emphasise them in the same way but I think to call them core values is quite wrong.

POM     But if I talked about African core values?

MWM     I'm just saying that if you look at all those sort of things

POM     You're saying they're mushy?

MWM     It's a mishmash of things and as such they become very meaningless because they cover almost everything. The fact that they do that tells you that actually there are vested interests in each one of those depending on who argues for what, so they are not really what I would call core values. They are just some kind of idea.

POM     What would be the core values of Africanisation?

MWM     The core values of an African society, it's only one, one value, that you are human because there are other human beings. That's one core value. From there flow a number of things that deal with dignity, possessions and the way you make decisions and those are no longer values, they are just I suppose sub-sets of principles that flow out of that. The important thing that gets drummed in your head is that you are only human because there are other human beings and your own happiness and your own sadness reflects and is reflected upon by other people.

POM     How would you counterpoint that with what Archbishop Tutu always refers to as ubuntu?

MWM     That's the same thing. It's the same thing.

POM     How would you counterpoint that then with this continuing post-colonial legacy of violence and inter-ethnic conflict, the fact that a country like Nigeria can't get it together, that it's been already through a brutal civil war in the early seventies, there are still ethnic conflicts between the north and the south, there are fights over dominance for resources?

MWM     You mean how does that relate to - ?

POM     Relate to core African values.

MWM     It's a breakdown of norms in African society that has gone on and has been perpetuated for a very long time.

POM     Do you think that is true too in SA with rape, particularly child rape?

MWM     No, I think this one I'm prepared to say I don't understand it. Rape? No. I think the level of rape and the dimension that it has taken, I think it requires a new theory. I think it's sickening. I can't explain it on any value, liberalism or otherwise.

POM     The current one is that it's an expression of not lust but of powerlessness, a way for the black male or the white male who has no power to express power and control over another.

MWM     I don't know, I find it very strange. I'm lost for words on the way rape is taking place and I think there has been a breakdown of the core value in African society which is ubuntu. I have to say that having said that, one has never had the benefit to also look at ethnicity on its own because I think an element of African society is built along ethnic lines. It is a very important part of African society and how they relate to each other has never been really studied in a much more fundamental way, how ethnicity was taken care of in African society. So I don't have a clear answer for that but I do know that, say for example in the Northern Province, there are the Tsongas and there are the Vendas and there are the Northern Sothos, why is it that they could live together as three ethnic tribes and never go around bashing each other and then you have in Natal, where you have only Zulus, and they are fighting each other. So it's not easy to sometimes see where the breakdown has come from because it can be even if its in the same ethnic group people still do things that are completely illogical or out of character and sometimes if you take the Nigerian situation which is the ethnic tribes that are fighting each other. As I say when you look at the situation in the Northern Province you have got three ethnic tribes that are very, very different, Nguni, Venda from Zimbabwe and a typically southern African tribe, the Northern Sotho, they live there under the same sort of government or province and there's never been any bloodshed. It doesn't mean they don't hold strong views about each other. They do.

POM     But there have been social mechanisms that protect them from moving into conflict.

MWM     We make silly jokes about each other that you may describe as very derogatory but we have never actually picked up sticks or guns and said let's go and attack the Vendas.

POM     When I was growing up it was called 'Paddy the Irishman' and 'Paddy the Englishman' and 'Paddy the Scotsman'. Paddy the Irishman always came out at the bottom.

MWM     So you have those kinds of things. I am not sure that the answer is very simple.

POM     I would hope that I would be able to see you again at some point. I have another appointment with a man who if I turn up a minute late would say, "You've lost five minutes." But I would love to come back and talk more. There's one question I want to leave you with, when we started coming here first and it was difficult to raise, this is going back to 1987, 1985 in fact, the question of ethnicity in the South African context.

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.