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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Nov 1999: Jones, Colin

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POM     Colin, we've been talking now for maybe eight or nine years and your life, like this country, has gone through many a twist and turn. Could you maybe just trace some of those twists and turns and what do you think were the turning points in your own odyssey before we get to the country's?

CJ     Well one doesn't quite know where to start but I suppose that I have to start round about 1976 which was a very seminal year for me in that it was at the end of the previous year, in 1975, when I was ordained into the Anglican church in the full time ministry. In June of 1976, I think I might have mentioned this before, I was in fact priested into the Anglican church and I celebrated mass for the first time as a priest on June 16th 1976, a very auspicious day. So to a large degree I've always felt that my personal life and my ministry in the church was inextricably and historically bound up with that time. As you say that sort of paralleled the developments in this country because I served in one of the poorer parishes in this city, in Cape Town, for two years during the student uprisings and was very much caught up in the student demonstrations in my parish during those two years, saw a lot of people killed and injured in the confrontations with the police and army. I always theologically, I think, tied in my own head the struggle for liberation with the offering of the mass. I can remember very clearly having heard on the early news that evening, on June 16th, that there had been shootings in Soweto and students had been killed and I remember standing at the altar in that little parish in Athlone thinking as I said the words of consecration, "This is my body, this is my blood", of how much that was relevant to the bodies and blood being yet again broken. In a way, rightly or wrongly, I've sort of seen that as almost the moment of my rebirth.

     Then over the years I was involved, as you will recall, in university ministry. I worked as Chaplain at the University of the Western Cape which was very much a centre of student struggle, many confrontations with police and student demonstrations and the rise of the United Democratic Front, UDF, working with people like Allan Boesak on the campus and being very much caught up in that and other struggles happening in the townships with vigilante confrontations, the comrades and vigilantes and so on.

     In 1987 Desmond sent me to America for two years and I spent two fairly peaceable years working with the Anti Apartheid Movement and working particularly with the disinvestment and sanctions campaigns in the north west of the United States. Then from September of the following year, 1988, when I came back and Desmond's invitation to be Dean of St George's Cathedral and, again, caught up in that last surge of the struggle in the country from 1988 through to 1990 and 1991 with Mandela's release and spent eight hectic years from 1988 to 1996 when I left the Cathedral, working closely with Desmond Tutu and being part of his ministry in this city and in the country at the end of which, two years after our liberation, I reached the point where I had to make some decisions about my future in the church. I had begun to struggle with my own theological understandings and my need for spiritual growth and realising that I wasn't really able to explore to the extent that I wanted to explore either of those things, either my theological understanding or my spiritual growth within the institution and I was becoming too institutionalised an animal and that there was a great danger of becoming totally institutionalised by becoming a Bishop which was the next thing for me to do. I realised that I didn't want to do that, I didn't want to become inextricably bound up with the institution. So I left and I went and worked with a big non-government organisation and I hoped that I might give some expression to this search.

POM     That was the IDT?

CJ     IDT, yes. I worked there for two years and learnt a few skills which I hadn't learnt in the church, expanded my world a bit and got in touch with my own creative energy again. Originally, before I went into the church, I had thought of pursuing an artistic career as a musician, as a violinist or as an actor and I had trained in both of those before I went into the church. I think the thing that attracted me to the church was the fact that it gave me space to think and to write particularly. While I was at the IDT this growing need to give expression to my artistic spirit, which I realised was the same as my spiritual search, became more and more pressing and so when I was invited by the Spier Group to come and be part of the artistic endeavour in the creation of the Arts Festival at Spier I leapt at the opportunity because I thought that that would be the means in which to express and pursue my own creative side.

     And that's what I've been doing for the last two years. Just recently, about four months ago, I came up against yet another realisation and that is I'm not an institutional person, that I don't survive, I don't exist, I don't create within institutional environments and that Spier as a business, despite the fact that it has a commitment to the arts sees itself as a business, sees the arts as a business, as part of its greater business plan. I decided that I really needed to be true to this inner passion and explore my own writing. So I went away, I went overseas, took a month off and worked on a book which I completed in one sitting virtually, writing day and night, which was almost a kind of purging of my own history, a kind of catharsis, and I wrote what is a kind of combination of a biography of my grandmother and an autobiography in terms of my relationship with a rather extraordinary woman who was half Irish and that's enough to make everybody slightly crazy, as you as an Irishman will know, and really found that I was beginning to feel a lot more fulfilled in my writing.

     I've really taken a leap of faith, having explored some business ventures, you might recall that we talked about that. I realised that business isn't what I'm into, the business I'm into is the business of being creative and in a sense that's what my spiritual struggle is about, my spiritual endeavour is about, exploring my own creativeness as a creature, as somebody who is creative. It's been a rather confusing space because in order to do that I realise I have to step free of the institutions which, in a sense, have provided me with the financial support but having freed myself of the institutions I am now feeling a lot happier, a lot more creative, a lot more at peace, but obviously now have the pressures of the lack of financial support and so that's an interesting space in which to be, when one has to think how the bills get paid.

POM     It sure is!

CJ     I'm really exploring means of earning an income which doesn't make me sell my soul to the devil, which doesn't tie me up with other people's great plans of money making and yet which gives me enough to earn an income and support myself in the manner to which I would like to be accustomed. The trouble is, as you will know, is that in order to be a writer very often one has to be very rich or have a patron and I don't, I've discovered I don't really have the talent to be very rich or attract a patron, or you have to be very poor for which I really have no inclination.

POM     You're beginning to sound like Oscar Wilde now.

CJ     Did he say that?

POM     It's the kind of thing he would have said.

CJ     And there's no such thing as a middle class bum unless you're going to just write page turners and I have no desire to see whatever I write adorning airport book shops. So it's an interesting space in which to be.

POM     How are you making a living?

CJ     It's very interesting that, because a number of things have come up which are sort of in the making but haven't yet produced a cheque. That is, I've registered a Closed Corporation which is a one-man business, as a consultant really, and I've consulted on a number of things mostly around artistic and cultural endeavours. I have consulted to the SA Museums and Galleries and am in the process of helping to restructure the national museum system. I've just recently been appointed by the Minister of Arts & Culture to chair this body in the southern part of the country. For five months I was Acting Chief Executive Officer of this institution.

POM     With a pay cheque?

CJ     With a pay cheque, there was a pay cheque, so that's kept the roof over my head for a little while. I'm also consulting to the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust which is an initiative to establish a Desmond Tutu Leadership Academy and a museum in the city. It's a very exciting venture and I'm involved both as a Trustee and as a consultant to this venture, and a number of other things. I do some radio work and a little bit of television work, I do interviews and get paid a few hundred bucks for that sort of thing. So that's what I've been doing.

POM     Somebody had told me, and don't ask me who because I have forgotten, but it's like one of these things that you say, "Oh?", and then you tell somebody else and suddenly it develops a life of its own, that you were running a private club, a brandy and cigar club.

CJ     Yes, I got involved, it's not really my club, it's another guy's club and he really called me in because he wanted to have a component which was cultural and intellectual in the club, providing cultural and intellectual stimulation and entertainment in terms of music and speakers and so on for the club and that's how I got involved and I ended up being the marketing person for the club, presenting this club to the city and to prospective members. The club has now taken a new direction which I'm not entirely happy with so I've withdrawn from that venture because I don't really see the opportunity to do what initially I had hoped I might contribute to this club so I'm no longer part of that. It's also been part of my withdrawal, in a sense, from public life. I am tired of being a public figure. It has a tremendous price which comes with that and I find it very invasive of my privacy. It's also, I think, partly because I'm discovering a part of myself which is very much part of who I am and that is the bit of the recluse in me. It's about discovering this reclusive side of me and I think I've discovered what my dilemma is in a way.

     When I was in the church I would have regular times of retreat and quiet but since leaving the church and getting involved in more secular stuff I realise how noisy the world is out there and it's really, in a sense, eaten away at my spirit the fact that I haven't had as much time for reflective space, for quiet to withdraw and retreat, as it were, from my normal activities and I find that I need that more and more. Indeed it is my retreat into my personal quiet, reflective space which is what the source of my own creative energy is about.

     So what I'm looking for is a good patron who will keep me simply so that I can write, which is really what I would love to be doing with the rest of my life, exploring what I think has been a very, even if it sounds a little arrogant, quite an interesting life in a very interesting country and having rubbed shoulders and shared life with some extraordinary people to reflect on that and not just to write a kind of analytical researching thing, I think there's plenty of that and there are lots of people out there with far more skill at doing that, but to write some of the stories, the personal histories, some of the fantasy stuff about our country, that the story needs to be told in every way and not overtly necessarily in political jargon.

     As you interestingly said right at the start, in some ways my life has paralleled the country's life, I think that's very true in my personal history and the personal histories of a lot of people in this country have been so caught up with the political that it's made us totally political animals and it's really about revisiting that life to try and rediscover oneself not purely as a political animal responding to the political circumstances outside of one but what was going on in terms of the personal relationships, what was going on in terms of one's own personal development.

     To some extent I think I've explored that in my relationship with my grandmother who was this extraordinary woman who was half white and half coloured, raising a family, living in difficult times and who yet in her personal relationships with all of us in the family, and with my own relationship with her, was really engaged in a parallel struggle of liberation, of the human spirit, of our creative energies, of our having a sense of our own worth, which was in a way almost separate from the political struggle and yet which I now understand was so critical to my own development and to how and why I engaged in the political struggle. I realise it was my grandmother who turned me into an activist. It was my grandmother who taught me to stand up and fight anything which smacked of oppression because she was a pretty oppressive character in a way herself. She was a very dominating woman, a maker of men and a breaker of men. She taught me to fight, she taught me to stand up for myself, she taught me to be rebellious, she taught me to be a revolutionary in a way and an activist purely in my relationship to her. It was very interesting exploring that relationship for the first time because I bore her such a grudge because I always thought of her as the great ogre in my life and yet it was through my relationship with her that maybe some of my better features and characteristics were developed.

     I wonder sometimes whether we might not look back at apartheid, as the victims of apartheid, and say if it wasn't for apartheid we might never have stretched ourselves, there might never have been a Mandela, there would never have been people like Desmond who had to dig deep into their own resources of humanity and human spirit and thus become the kind of people that they are.

POM     I'd like you to follow that on a slightly different track and, again, it would involve personal relations, apartheid, the post-apartheid era. Looking just at the social structures in the country at the moment, one third of all violent crimes are committed in the home, over 75% of women who are raped are raped by people who know them, over 75% of rapes are gang rapes, there are the levels of child molestation, child rape, not just child, it ranges from age 2 to a 114 year old woman raped by her nephew, there's a viciousness and a peculiar macabre kind of violence to much of it. What's happened?

CJ     I'm not sure that I know the answer to that. At one level though I think that what has happened is that people who as victims under the apartheid regime suffered such repression there was no way in which many of these people, particularly poor and disempowered and emasculated men, could hit back at the system because the system has such powerful repressive arms, the police for instance. It's interesting that people now say the police are totally ineffectual in the country whereas under apartheid they were such a powerful force. Now that the lid's been removed I personally think that some of these former victims are acting out in anger and because they are disempowered and emasculated they seek a victim who is weaker and, therefore, I think women and children in particular are so vulnerable in our society.

     But it's also interesting to see the amount of what's called white collar crime. There's a sense in which people experience the freedom which has been so hard fought for as licence, as permission to just now express their anger in every way and to make use of the space. I suspect that part of it is the perception that there's a vacuum created in our society, a vacuum in which the new order hasn't yet gelled and all of these sort of arms of the state are not yet in place appropriately. I think that's true. That's certainly my feeling that we haven't quite put in place what is necessary to support a healthy society. In a way that must be a criticism of government.

POM     What would you point to?

CJ     I think an interesting area is the constitutional space. If one looks at the South African constitution we pride ourselves in that we have such a modern, liberal constitution.

POM     Best in the world they say.

CJ     And I think there's a sense in which we can be rightfully proud but we haven't really created the kind of society and the organs of society which are strong enough to ensure the liberties and the rights of people under that constitution, nor have we really educated people in terms of the responsibilities which come living in a free society. We know too that so much of what exists in terms of those structures, like for instance the police force and the civil service, is still dominated by people who worked in the old regime and who haven't really been retrained, reprogrammed almost, to think differently. It's all happened so fast, we've grown up so fast that in a sense almost our bodies have outstripped our intellectual and our moral capacity, not so much our intellectual, but our moral capacity to act responsibly.

POM     If you look at other societies that were under the lid of repression for decades, particularly I suppose in Eastern Europe and the former communist countries, when you had the lid taken off there they all went through, some of them quite extended, periods of increases of crime, social disorder and many new institutions not in place. But the expression of people who had been newly freed who had been powerless and the way they expressed their anger didn't take this form of what is almost in one sense, I don't want to exaggerate, but like a war on women and children. I don't get why is it as high in other countries in, say, Africa but that because you have a first world sector here you have better reporting standards, even the police, as poor as they are, are better than police in other countries, or is it the very opposite? I have friends, and I am sure you have, who say South Africans look down on Zimbabwe, but you can walk around Harare at any hour of the day or night and not feel in the least bit that you're going to look over your shoulder at every form that's coming either towards you or any form that's behind you.

CJ     I don't know why violence has manifested this particular form in SA. I suspect it has to do with a combination of things though. I think very few of us in this country would say that we are anywhere near satisfied or happy with law enforcement. Clearly there's a crisis in law enforcement in this country and not just law enforcement but in the judicial system. There would be those who would say that Judge Foxcroft's ruling recently in which he gave a father a very light sentence simply because he raped his daughter and the Judge's rationale was at least he kept it in the family, it wasn't, as it were, against the wider community, just boggles the mind, but it shows the confused thinking of South Africans when it comes to sexual crimes. I just don't understand what that's about and in fact in the book I'm working on at the moment I'm trying to explore what this is about, what is this deep anger, this willingness to act against women and children so violently that men in this country seem to have. I don't know what it is and I'm really trying to explore this very much in the book in which I'm writing about rape.

POM     In what direction is your thinking leading you?

CJ     As I say, there are a number of things, the lack of law enforcement and I think the failure of the judicial system to be even-handed across the board. I think also that in SA, and this is true to some extent of much of Africa, is the way in which women and children are seen within society and it's not just true of black African society. It's true of white African society too because women in Afrikanerdom, for instance, were seen to be very much of a lesser role. Now we can glorify the women of the Anglo Boer War but many of those women suffered as much segregation even within the Dutch Reform Church and have been kept apart in a very male dominated cultural environment. So it's part of the way in which all South Africans, I think, have been taught to relate to women, whether black or white, it's a very male thing.

     The incidence of violence against families was a very strong feature of apartheid society where family murders where a father would shoot his wife and his children seemed to be a great feature of Afrikaner culture, if one can call it that. And the incidence of crimes against women and children within white Afrikaner families is extremely high in this country. That seems, to some extent, to have shifted off the front pages. I'm not sure what the incidence is any longer but I think it's another manifestation of the confusion in the male mind in SA as to one's role in society, your place in the family, your right as the head of the family, this great responsibility which comes with being male which is both cultural and to some extent I suppose political in SA.

     It's only under the new administration that we see women, for instance, being given the freedom to pursue careers and to play a rightful role in the leadership of the country. And for men who have believed that that is their right and who suddenly find themselves out of jobs or men who find themselves now having to deal with strong women, maybe subconsciously are reacting to this and feel increasingly disempowered. I don't think that's novel to SA, I certainly have seen it happen in churches, for instance, throughout the world with the ordination of women and how in the USA black clergy in particular have acted quite angrily against the very fast rise of women within the church and they see this as being grossly unfair because they have been struggling with their white male counterparts and suddenly white women, particularly, have overtaken them and are becoming Bishops.

     I think there are all those sorts of dynamics which have created a deep confusion within the minds of men and that men are acting out in this country. Black men are acting out, white men are acting out, it's a very male problem and I think there's a kind of identity crisis for men in SA and that we need to be helped to understand our roles not in the kind of patriarchal sense, not in the sense of being expected to be the strongest, the breadwinner, the head of the family and all of this sort of thing, but we don't have a new language nor are we supported by a strong economy, jobs to give people a sense of some degree of pride. Men have lost face in SA.

POM     So they're angry. Is it in a sense that the freedom has turned out to be no freedom at all? That oppression in the past has been, I won't use the words 'a place to hide' and now that that's taken away there's no place to hide in, one is exposed, one's powerlessness is exposed?

CJ     And one's bigotries. I think both the powerlessness and the bottled up anger is now exposed. But also I think that paucity of the moral content of our positions has also been exposed and as men, particularly, that we had no right to occupy the kind of space that we have occupied simply on the basis of our gender any longer. And that's left men confused because there is no identity to fill that vacuum yet and men are struggling and are not being helped. We almost need a campaign, in my view, in which men can begin to face both what they believed they were and what the need to understand they should be. And that's an educational thing, it begins right in the home, in the way in which we raise boys in our family. It needs to be part of the educational system, we need to have models in our society, in business, in the church, in every other way where men and women 'compete' as equals and that there is no divine right which men have to occupying positions of power and authority.

POM     You relate that in an odd way to the situation with regard to HIV and AIDS. It's been a long term interest of mine, back to the mid-eighties when I began to write about it, edit anthologies in a journal I edit in the States on it. I'm now doing one on the Economic & Social Consequences of AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. I spent a week in Lusaka at the conference there and then while I'm here, which of course it's the fastest growing as you know, all the statistics, when I talk to senior people in government, ministers, the rest, and ask them what is the greatest challenge facing the country in the next ten to fifteen years, not one of them mentioned AIDS. After they give their answer I go back and say, "Well why didn't you say AIDS? AIDS is doing A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H." They all say, "Well AIDS, that's a regional problem, it's not a problem in the context of how I was thinking of the problem. I was thinking in terms of economics." But it really means that they're not thinking about it despite awareness programmes promulgated by the government. In fact the health budget for next year is being cut. The country, to me at that level, it's at plague level, it's gone past pandemic level and yet there's a paralysis. Some talk but there's no sense of emergency that I can detect at all.

CJ     I think that's very true.

POM     Is there a denial?

CJ     I wonder very often. This might sound quite romantic in a way, not romantic but it's very speculative. I wonder whether given the fact that we're supposed to be such a free society there are lots of taboos still in our society which we don't talk about, people don't really talk openly about matters regarding sex, even about relationships. Those are taboo subjects largely and we're almost schizophrenic in a way in our society. Suddenly you can buy pornography on the shelves. I've just walked to town from the Cathedral

POM     Adult World.

CJ     Adult World Sex Shop right down the road and there's been such a mushrooming of the sex industry, but it's a bit of an hypocrisy in a way because it's allowed to be here but we haven't really, like the Dutch for instance, lived with it comfortably and we haven't really begun to look at what the implications are for the health care of sex workers. As soon as that's raised people suddenly become extremely moralistic and very Calvinistic about the issue. Just recently in this city, for instance, the head of the Cape Tourism Board, Cheryl Ozinsky, talked about the need to designate a red light district in the city so that some controls and monitoring could be administered, and everybody got incredibly moralistic about it. Suddenly we all discovered our deep Christian moral roots on this matter, and not just Christian moral roots but religious roots regarding this. That's part of the schizophrenia.

     When one looks at AIDS and how in some of the black communities this is being dealt with, there are still people out there who say the cure for AIDS is sleeping with a virgin. And what are we doing in terms of addressing that issue? So here we are in tremendous confusion. There's tremendous confusion here and what I think is happening is that in the face of that confusion people are saying it's too messy, let's not get involved with that, let's deal with what we can deal with, so let's deal with economics, and they don't see the connection between economics and the productive workforce and a healthy workforce for that matter. Although just last week some figures were quoted in this city in which business took a hard look at what the costs of AIDS was to productivity in the country.

     But it seems to me that we're all over the place at the moment. There's so much to deal with that people's focus is all over the place and that those in leadership are maybe finding themselves somewhat less than well equipped to deal with these issues and we're too proud to acknowledge that we need help and I think we do need help in this country. We need to acknowledge our need of people and of other societies and not pretend that we can do this on our own. There's a sense in which I'm very fearful that by putting this off and letting it go along that not just AIDS, which as I think you rightly say has now moved to plague level, but that some of our other problems will also just run away with us because we're too afraid to acknowledge the fact that we don't have the answers here. We have set ourselves up, well maybe not set ourselves up, but we have accepted that somehow SA is this model for the rest of Africa and that somehow we've got to keep up appearances.

POM     Is that not very dangerous thinking on a number of levels, and I suppose perhaps to draw, I would just like to hear your comment (break in recording) and in social engineering to what the ANC is doing today which is a massive rearrangement of society for different purposes but in a sense using the same kind of methodologies. Afrikaners used affirmative action to take care of their disadvantages vis-à-vis the English, it's being used now to take care of disadvantage, as it should be, but you have a lot of social engineering going on, laws being laid down about behaviour, the way people ought to behave, that make me feel uneasy.

CJ     My own experience of the new SA is that there seems to be less social engineering and more of letting things just be and let them just take their own course in a way, without sufficient direction. I know that sounds contradictory because while it's true that there's affirmative action and

POM     It's not on the books.

CJ     For instance, you look at the most recent area of debate, it's around education and the fact that the Minister of Education is saying that children under the age of seven should not be allowed to commence Grade 1. Now that seems to me to be a bit of social engineering there and it's all in the name of equalising opportunity for children. I don't understand the logic myself.

POM     Is it equalising or trying to equalise outcomes?

CJ     Yes, don't talk to me about outcomes-based education because I'm really tired of jargon, I'm tired of it because the ordinary folk don't understand that and we're operating at two levels. I regard myself as a fairly intelligent human being with an education and some life experience but I struggle with just understanding simply what it is that we're on about and, again, there's a contradiction, while there seems to be all of this social engineering there's no real system and method to the madness so I can't see the pattern. We talk about allowing for people's culture to find expression in our society. We talk about the previously disadvantaged groups who have not had access to museums and whose art and culture have been looked down upon as crafts but never acknowledged as real art. I don't see any kind of plan of action in terms of just providing financially for the support of black artists. I hear wonderful terminologies like 'African Renaissance' and one hears about the role of art and culture in that, education in that and yet there is no method to it. I am all in favour of some kind of engineering as long as the thing's bolted and screwed together to form a strong structure and there can be freedoms within that. I don't think we want to go back to the kind of social engineering in which people are treated unfairly and repressed and discriminated against, but I think there is a place for helping people to develop within a society by putting together the organs of society, civil organs of society which provide support like good health care, good education, like money for the arts.

     And maybe it's early days yet, maybe it's too soon to expect all of this to fall into place just now. I am worried because I don't think we have the luxury of time to get our act together. It needs for incredibly imaginative ideas with people to manage those ideas and see them through, skilled people to see them through. It calls for real courageous leadership up front there who know what they're on about and don't just talk in jargonese, in concept stuff, but are able to implement some of those ideas into practical, doable things. I think we somehow or other haven't managed to harness the appropriate energies and ideas and leadership yet.

POM     How do you do that in the face of relentlessly increasing joblessness, where even since 1994 the poor in SA have gotten poorer, not better off in any material way. People talk about electricity and water which has improved some areas to a considerable extent but where the mass of the people still live and will continue to live for the foreseeable future in dire poverty? What is going to change that? The case I like to cite more to myself than any other is Germany. When Germany was reunified the West Germans threw billions into East Germany, they flooded it with money and yet the level of inequality between the two parts is just about the same now as it was then, the level of unemployment, the level of everything. It's like two different countries still, yet huge amounts of money have been invested.

CJ     I don't know the answer to that but I think if one looks at the way in which the business community in SA is developing, we're now talking about a merger between Nedcor and Stannic, the Standard Bank thing, a creation of a super African bank, and they are saying that between 10,000 and 16,000 people will be laid off as a result of that. I was listening to an interview on TV last night in which an economist was being asked what he thought about this and when asked about the additional joblessness which would be created he skimmed over it. He said there are bound to be some casualties along the road.

POM     Collateral damage.

CJ     Collateral damage, and this is the way the economists are thinking. If this is a serious economist not willing to actually deal with it and just put it aside to collateral economic damage, then one wonders what we're really on about in this country. On the one hand we talk about job creation and we're looking at affirmative action and all of this sort of thing to enable people to develop. On the other hand we cut our throats by allowing for these mergers to take place. I don't know whether there shouldn't be some kind of state intervention in which we say, well that may well be a fine thing for a first world developed country but is it appropriate in this country? But we're caught, I think, in a double bind here because unless we are seen to be competitive and unless we're seen in some ways to be copying, even aping, the first world, we don't have the confidence of international investors. I think that's a dilemma of the emerging country like ours, that we are caught between having to go at one pace in order to, in a sense, socially engineer some kind of equality and on the other hand we are being pulled along by the rate of development in the first world which if we don't go along with that tide we seem to be just another sort of third world country with no aspiration and no hope of ever becoming part of the global community. That I think is a terrible bind in which to find ourselves and the ANC seems to me to be caught in that bind, it speaks with both sides of its mouth.

POM     I can still remember the days when the mantras were four conglomerates controlled 80% of the SA stock exchange and this is one of the first things on the table, that these companies would be dismantled and well spread and now they're into all kinds of mergers. Mergers, the bigger the better.

CJ     You look at the rise of black empowerment companies and where they are sitting these days. They're on the stock exchange and they're in bed with the same people and mouthing the same sort of language now. It's hard not to be cynical in the face of this.

POM     When you see good people, I have talked to people like Moseneke, I've been interviewing him for years, who I have a tremendously high regard for, and when you talk and say black empowerment really is about the empowerment of the few, and this was before the scandal at NAIL, he got really outraged and talked about their share schemes and how they were spreading the wealth, people could buy shares that they couldn't do before, even a little amount is something. But you tell that to somebody who's living in a shack without a job and if they did have a share the first thing they would do is sell it so that they have immediate cash to fulfil an immediate need.

CJ     This is what happened to the demutualisation of Old Mutual and how many people cashed in their shares immediately?

POM     Is that right? I was following that up to a point but didn't know that people had cashed in.

CJ     I would suspect, and I speak without any figures here, but I would imagine that many of the people from so-called previously disadvantaged communities, that they would have immediately sold off their shares in order just to be able to pay the bills and deal with accumulated debt and so on. It's troubling, it's extremely troubling I think and I'm not sure, because I'm not an economist, I'm not the sort of person who can come up with schemes and plans as to how to put things right, but there are people who occupy those positions and supposedly know what they're on about but don't give us a great deal of confidence in terms of what we see out there. Unemployment as far as I can see is as bad, if not worse, and some of the promises which have been made have not been delivered upon and somebody is going to have to give account for that.

     I've become more and more, I'm not quite sure what to call myself, I suppose an anarchist in that I believe less and less in the power of the institution and maybe the only hope for us is somehow, just as we see happening within the church, where people who have a real spiritual thirst very often, and who are really asking some critical questions about the meaning of life and their own lives and what it means to be human and the existence of the divine, are finding that the dogma and the doctrine and the rite and ritual of the mainline churches, and even some of the other churches, sectarian churches which have grown up in reaction to those churches, no longer provide the answers and that the kind of spiritual reality for a lot of people now is outside of the institution, increasingly so. People will say I don't belong to a church but I still regard myself as having a spiritual dimension and I want to explore that and people are seeking other ways of being spiritual. Maybe people will find other ways of being political and that maybe one of the hopes for the new millennium is that we will see less institutional government and some other kind of governance. How that will happen, what it will take to shift that I don't know because I don't think it's going to be an easy transition.

POM     But the trend if anything is going in the opposite direction. Globalisation, global institutions, sub-global institutions.

CJ     Of institutional life.

POM     The World Bank and the IMF to a degree control the fate of more people than any government.

CJ     That is so but at the same time it's also true that there are more and more people becoming critical of that, questioning it, trying to step outside of it. Maybe a movement will grow in the future. Like all movements there will be small core, and they have always been there, but which will grow up in response to this attempt to control all of our lives, fit us into some institutional framework whether it be of religion or of political ideology and say that's not where I belong, that's not what I am, and begin to create some counter-dynamic.

POM     Is the SA that is emerging the SA you had hoped and envisaged would emerge in a post-apartheid society?

CJ     I, like many other South Africans were engaged over all of those many, many, many decades of struggle, that we were so fixed upon what we didn't want and were so fixed on the very clear manifestation of what we were fighting against, that we really didn't begin to give concrete content to what we wanted. There was the Freedom Charter which was probably the only attempt at trying to at least put into words something of the kind of society that we wanted. Again, I use the church as an example of an institution, of a community which having made its stand, however one wants to judge that stand but it made its stand against apartheid, at the demise of the ideology and of the system suddenly found itself in a kind of vacuum not knowing what to do, what to say. It's almost as if we need some kind of counter thing against which to have some kind of identity and what we South Africans need to learn is to begin to create what we want without necessarily having the counter-balance to it and say we don't want this, therefore we want that. It calls for creative minds.

     You asked me the question as to whether it's the kind of society I imagined. I imagined a very simple society in which people would have jobs, would have access to education, would have health care, that the poor would have access to health care, that there would be adequate housing. I start reciting the Freedom Charter and that's all that we're talking about then and I think it's all that people want now. All they want is delivery on the promise, all that, and we're not seeing sufficient of it because we're not committed to having that for all. I think that's the truth, that what has happened is that for those who have not been totally disadvantaged, I'm talking about black people, coloured people and so on, who have somehow managed to live a fairly comfortable if somewhat aggravated existence under the past regime, have now seen opportunity, personal opportunity, and have gone for it and in a sense have abandoned the plight of the poor and no longer see themselves they see an opportunity there and they're going for it and it's now about each person for himself or herself.

POM     That has always puzzled me, why Mandela didn't use his unparalleled moral authority to say and to preach continuously that if we are to build a new SA it is going to take sacrifice on the part of everybody and learn sacrifice. Trade unions, you must stop looking for 10%, 15% wage increases, or even 5% because the reality is while you're getting better off you are keeping other people literally out of jobs. Labour is a dispensable commodity in a technological age. It's a huge problem in developed countries. The more developed they get, the more they rely on technology, the less need there is for human labour. Now they will find a way of dealing with that perhaps in the longer run but here you have labour almost working for their constituency but certainly working against the interests of those who have no jobs. There's no kind of spirit that we are the proletariat, we must work for each other and if that means that I sacrifice a little so that you can have a job, well then I'm prepared to do that, or for whites to really understand, which I don't believe they do, it's a grudging, giving in redistribution, it's because they have to, not because they want to or understand its necessity or even understand it as a form of reparation for the past, for which, again, they don't appear still to take any personal blame. It's as though, we talked about it before, the Truth Commission, oh if we knew those awful things were going on of course we wouldn't have tolerated them. OK, that's life. There is no national cohesion.

CJ     No. We've never been a cohesive country ever and part of the lack of cohesion is to be seen in the fact that we have, South Africa, maybe of all the African countries, has always had this what I call schizophrenia, this bi-polar personality, in which we have had this first world, European reality and the third world one. I think that we've always been somewhat enamoured, infatuated with the first world, western stuff, we have no pride in being African and we have no desire to be poor. It's a bit like what I was saying earlier, in order to be right you have to be either very rich or very poor and given the choice I'd rather be very rich. I think it's a very human thing. What we're seeing is that like moths being attracted to the light and the many, many attractive temptations of first world lifestyle, a lot of South Africans, both black and white, will have the means and have the choice in terms of where they're going to be putting their money, put it on a first world horse and not on the third world plough ox. That's the choice we seem to be making.

POM     I was talking to William Makgoba and trying to understand the difference between African values and Eurocentric values which I still can't quite grasp. He would agree with things I would say and say, "That's correct", but when I came out I'd forgotten what I said that was so correct, so I was no wiser one way or the other. But I was saying to him, we're all consumers now, we all consume the same commodities whether it's a shopping mall in Sandton or in San Francisco or in Southgate or Eastgate or Westgate, whether it's the shoes, the sneakers, the hats, the name, it's consume, consume, consume. It's not save, sacrifice, invest for the future. It's get into as much debt as quickly as you can and if you can declare bankruptcy start borrowing all over again.

CJ     Maybe it's because we don't believe in the future. Maybe that's the ultimate lack of faith that it's all short term, that even power is short term. I remember hearing testimony from members of parliament on a commission I served in which they were pleading just before the elections as to why their pensions should be of a certain size and nature and why there should be, as it were, additional perks given them because of the tenuousness of their existence as politicians. They saw themselves as making a sacrifice for the nation and therefore should be rewarded because they had taken a risk by putting themselves up for political office which had no guarantee in terms of their long term futures. We made the point to them that we live in a world in which there are no guarantees in any job you go into so why should you be treated differently? Why the special pleading on the part of politicians? I think it's interesting that people, and politicians included, seem to think that we need to get as much as we can out of where we are. We're in for the short term, that there is no long term existence and maybe there's a sort of sub-conscious lack of faith in the future, so it's quick enrichment, let's spend it now, let's get the BMW, let's get what we can, let's get the package. It's interesting, even when people are kicked out of jobs because of some scandal they still seem to negotiate for themselves sizeable golden handshakes.

POM     Well that's a first, this country is creating that. That doesn't exist, the guy who was in charge of Correctional Services in other countries he would have been called in by his boss and he would be told, "As I'm talking to you, your desk is being cleared out and the locks have been changed. You're fired." And here you had a guy negotiating a golden handshake.

CJ     We're told that he was not given a golden handshake but people are eased gently out of positions.

POM     Copper, copper handshake!

CJ     Yes. It is extraordinary, that. I think that we live in a very morally myopic world in which people don't believe that there is really a future and it's all short term and it's the 'now' world. I just wish to goodness we'd get this millennium thing over and done with because maybe we'd think it's not the end of something but the beginning. We've got another 1000 years ahead of us rather than 45 days left till the end of 1999. It's an extraordinary kind of malaise which has afflicted us in this country and I sometimes wonder whether we were wise in coining these phrases of 'miracle nation', 'rainbow nation' and the way in which we have held up some of our leaders as being almost demigods, because there's a sense of unreality about that and I think the reality has now caught up with us and all of the wonderful words and the way in which we viewed ourselves through rose coloured spectacles in 1994 no longer makes sense of the world in which we live. Somehow I think we almost have to become somewhat cynical in order to become realists and address the future, to be a little bit more cynical about how we got here. We forget all those talks about talks about talks and the negotiations which took place in order to reach the political deal which we got in the country. We need to look at what we sacrificed when we made those deals and we need to ask ourselves whether some of those sacrifices were worth it and whether we're now not paying the long term costs of a short term gain. All those assurances we gave to the business community, to the international community, to each other across party deals which were cut, all of those. Were they really worth the price? If the poor constantly pay the political bill then who is benefiting?

POM     Well your usually emerging middle class.

CJ     Middle class, as Jesus said I think, the middle class we shall have with us always.

POM     In terms of sheer numbers there are more Africans who are members of the middle class now than there are whites, not proportionality but just in terms of numbers and they are consumers.

CJ     And that's what makes the world glitter.

POM     And they're not thinking about sharing with their low brethren down there in the shack. They want to get as far away from that shack as possible.

CJ     But to that extent I think we mirror so much of the consumer world anyway and while we are hard on ourselves here, and rightly so, I think that what we're doing is we're just playing the game that the rest of the world is playing. Every country has its poor and every country has its emerging middle class. The incredible thing about the middle class is that what you're really aspiring to is mediocrity, a comfortable mediocrity. When people reach that standard of comfort that's where they like to settle and that's what they will protect.

POM     I've gone into, and I'm sure you've gone into too, little township houses, dirt street, but there is a 21 inch television set and there is a stereo, their priorities have been made, people have made choices with their very limited amount of resources. I say to myself, "Jesus, I don't want a television set and I don't own a stereo."

CJ     It's the power of the consumerist dream, it's the American dream translated into whatever national idiom that it's what we possess which somehow gives us meaning and it's not who we are. I think this is where the failure of religion is to be seen.

POM     Religion has failed?

CJ     I think religion has failed in that. I keep reminding myself of my first visit to Rome and walking in the piazza outside St Peters in Rome and being totally overwhelmed by the trappings of power and wealth. And it's true of all of our great churches, they are symbols of earthly power dressed up ostensibly as places of giving glory to God, but let's face it, that's what they are. The Vatican is extremely rich and I'm not just knocking the Vatican. Very often even the so-called poor dioceses of Africa, of South Africa here, have tremendous wealth in terms of their ownership of land and of assets and buildings and so on, tremendous wealth. But it's all bottled up, all tied up in some consumer product whether it be a church or a house or piece of land, and if we were really, really serious about justice for all and opportunity for all, the church would be looking at its vast assets but the last thing the church will do is sell off land or give it to the poor, make it the policy that it will share its wealth. If you look at the worst employers, I would suggest some of the very, very worst employers are not the farmers but the churches. You look at what rights and protections people have working in churches, whether they be the church gardener or the parish secretary, terrible exploitation of people who are expected to work for sub-breadline wages.

POM     For the honour and glory of God.

CJ     For the honour and glory of God. I can imagine God saying, "Well I really love the fact that you're not able to feed your family, that you're working slogging away in the parish of St Whatever, St Barnabus on the Decline or whatever." It's extraordinary. We've gone crazy, we've lost the plot and just personally I feel, I want to just walk away from it all and just get my wits together and try and think through where we are. It's almost as if we have to start a struggle all over again and this time it's not just a struggle for the land, it's for the heart and soul of our nation.

POM     You made a point there earlier, and we can conclude on this because I don't want to take up your whole day. In America certainly where there was a very strong anti-apartheid movement, very righteous, when apartheid ended they were left in bewilderment. There was this vacuum, the meaning of their lives had been taken away. They had spent so much time on their anti-apartheid activities and suddenly apartheid wasn't there and they didn't know what to do. They had companies that they'd fought to get boycotted because they had stayed in the country, they found were doing the best business, had become the best buddies of the ANC. Shell is a very good example. This isn't the way it was supposed to be. But there was a righteousness to it. Do you think that, and I'm just throwing this out because it would apply (a) to the English speaking people more, the Helen Suzmans, not her specifically but of her ilk, who were against apartheid yet benefited from apartheid and were active against it but protected against the consequences of their own activism by their position and very often at the head of movements like Black Sash or whatever, who when blacks came along and got their freedom said, "Thank you very much, we're moving in now, we don't need you any more. We don't need to be told how to run our lives, what to do, how to get our freedom", and have their own anger at being marginalised for what they think they contributed towards the struggle that's not recognised by other people and that maybe because so many people in a loose way were so involved in a fight against wrong is that when that wrong was lifted up they had no right to put in its place, they only knew how to fight against something, not for something. Any of that make sense?

CJ     Yes it does. We talked about it a little earlier in terms of how the church was left in this kind of vacuum and I think it's the same dilemma. But also when we look it's an interesting example you used of Helen Suzman, the liberal white movement in this country if you look at the church again too, here is the church being seen rightly or wrongly as being a champion against apartheid and Desmond certainly giving it incredible moral and spiritual content in his own person. And yet within, I speak of the church of which I was part, the Anglican Church, even during that struggle and during the church occupying this champion position, the inequalities which are taking place within the church, here we are talking about a non-sexist, non-racist society, while in the church there was tremendous resistance to the ordination of women at the very time of the struggle. We're talking about sharing distribution of wealth and all of this and the church sitting on all of its assets and not looking at how it could alleviate the lot of landless people, for instance, often being large landowners of people living on mission stations and paying rent to the church, such as out in Malmesbury, and not owning the piece of land on which they and their families have lived for generations. The church hadn't even begun to contemplate saying to people, this is your piece of God's earth. We talk about the abuse of power. When you look at the power of the Bishops and the clergy over the people in terms of how parishes are governed, all of that.

     So in a sense what having a bigger ogre does, as it did in SA, was for us to be able to turn our eyes away from our own shortcomings and I think that's a very human thing. It's great to have a crusade so that you don't have to deal with the squabbles in your own family, so you all go off marching to defend Jerusalem when your own home is under attack, that sort of syndrome I think. And now we stand somewhat exposed. Now, as you said earlier, we don't have this great big shadow of apartheid hanging over us and, as it were, swallowing up our own shadows. Our own shadows now stand exposed and we're now covering them up. We're not facing it. I don't think it's just government's job to deal with that.

     I feel tremendously disappointed in the way in which the church has not stepped into the gap. The church sees itself as the talk about debt relief, which is what is being pushed even in this diocese, it's a nonsense because here we have, it's an absolute hypocrisy in my book, here we have parishes, poor, poor parishes in which people are struggling just to have a place of worship, who owe the diocese thousands and thousands of rands, where people struggle every month to give a part of their meagre earnings towards paying off their church and paying for their clergy. They are taxed by the diocese and they get no relief, there's no poverty relief from the diocese in that respect and yet the diocese is asking the World Bank and everyone else to let poor nations off the hook. Where's the honesty in it? I think we are a pretty devious bunch, all of us, and we need to face up to the fact that we're not this miraculous good-natured people who didn't cut each other's throats, but that we all have within us the propensity to be greedy, to hunger after power, to look after our own nests, to build up institutions in which we hide and that we will take advantage of anyone given the chance.

     None of us desire to be poor and we prefer that the poor would go away. None of us will acknowledge the sickness in our society and particularly the sickness of AIDS in our society. We prefer to turn a blind eye and say, well we will never get this. It's only when it starts hitting us, and maybe through AIDS we will learn a great lesson, that we are all vulnerable, we are all at risk in this society and that no matter how strong we build up our empires and our institutions they all come tumbling down eventually. Maybe it's not about building empires and institutions, it's discovering our future, depends on the co-dependents, the mutual inter-dependence that we need to build up and strengthen if our society is going to be safe and strong. It's those old-fashioned things that we used to say in the church and which the ANC used to talk about and which we've all abandoned for some reason. It's about the ubuntu, people are people because of other people.

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.