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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
23 Nov 1999: Matthews, Joe
POM Minister, I've asked this of many people but the more opinions I gather on the diversity of the range of opinions the better reading I try to get of the situation. One is, what do you think is the major problem, if you could identify one major problem in the SAPS that requires the most urgent attention under the new Commissioner? I would like to talk to you about the culture of violence against women that has emerged at least publicly in the last few years. The level of rape, because the statistics, right or wrong, it's like two year olds being raped, grannies or 114 year olds being raped, the enormously high incidence of gang rape, what does this say about domestic abuse, I think 30% of all violent crime is committed in the home? What is this saying about the kind of country SA is or is becoming? I know in societies where there has been suppression, when the lid is taken off the pressure there's always a rise in crime but this is something different, this is crime directed against, almost a war being committed by men against women.
JM There's a problem about it and that is why I think the President raised the issue. You must bear in mind that we are in a society where the reporting of crime seems to be the major press political reporting on issues. Crime has become the main headline story in the SA media and therefore we are in difficulties. If you listen to the radio, watch the TV in other parts of the world, I listen to BBC almost 24 hours a day, not one mention of a crime in Britain, it's always about serious issues of an economic or political nature and so on. Here we have a situation where the press is rather like your local American radio station, TV station. You won't find that in the (overseas media).
POM New York Times for example.
JM Yes, or for that matter the US airwaves broadcasting to the world, you practically won't find any mention of a crime unless it's an extraordinary thing like a man shooting 20 schoolchildren or an explosion somewhere and so on. But rape, I have never heard a report of a rape in a newscast from the US or Britain or Germany or Deutsche Welle or anything like that. Now, the first point one wants to make is, are we getting a genuine reflection of an issue or are we finding that by reporting in this manner we are creating a certain image of SA, we are creating a particular image of SA? I don't know. That's one aspect of it. The other aspect is, of course, we have a very powerful women's movement in this country for many years, it's a very strong movement politically.
POM Now does this cut across racial lines or would it be middle class?
JM Mainly African women, the white women didn't need to be political for God's sake. They were not fighting for freedom so they are very backward in political terms but the African women have been very, very vocal and very strong and they have played a very big role in the national struggle for liberation, an unusually active role certainly in African terms. That means the moment they were able to do so the women report to the police. There's a very high level of reporting in this country. They don't think about what will the public think if you report I've been raped and so on. I think there's a very high level of reporting of rape cases or violence against women and so on. It's a very high level of reporting. I was listening to a programme the other day about rape in the US and the biggest problem that was raised by the women in that interview was that they don't report and it is suspected that a lot of them don't report for very many reasons. But the women in our country, especially the African women, are very bold in reporting violence done against them or violence done against their children. Therefore it's very difficult to make a comparison between this country and other countries because in other countries those are matters which are kept under wraps. They are kept under wraps, they are swept under the carpet. Nobody is going to contest a case of incest or anything like that, they keep them under the carpet for social and other reasons. But in this country that apparently is not the case. Women don't regard it as a stigma to go up to the police station and say, "A group of men raped me." So there is that aspect as well and it makes it very difficult to say that there's been a sudden upsurge. It may be that we have had this problem all along, but we didn't have a police force whom our women have confidence in and to whom they would report and therefore the thing tended to be suppressed and it comes up now as if it was a sudden phenomenon. I don't think it's a sudden phenomenon. That is as far as women are concerned.
The culture of violence, that's a different matter because the whole of society was engaged in violence over years in the struggle for liberation, children were carrying guns fighting for their freedom so you had established a very, very strong culture of violence and carrying of guns and so on. These were idealised in the struggle and of course many people predicted that if you have this kind of thing afterwards you will be sitting with a culture of violence. That was predicted, people like Buthelezi predicted that that would be one of the results of having virtually over 30 years of violent struggle, that you wouldn't be able to turn off the taps just like that afterwards, you would get a continuation of a culture of violence and easy access to guns and easy use of guns for various things. And of course now that's exacerbated by the drug problem because people must have money to buy drugs. So when we began to become a consuming country, drug consuming, like everywhere else it goes hand in hand with a great deal of violence.
POM Is there analysis that has been done of former MK fighters who returned to SA, found that there were no jobs available and access to weaponry was easy in the townships and they just got involved in gang activity because they were employing the only skills they had?
JM No I don't think that happened yet. First of all most of them were integrated into the army and police force and so on and those that were not received very generous pension terms. There were big payouts and pensions for that matter which they never had over the years when they were fighting. In the struggle they had no money and now the chaps were getting first their military pension and then the special pension for former liberation movement members. So in SA I don't think we have this issue of returning people who had no jobs and so on. I don't think we have had that as a problem. In any case the violence is so widespread it couldn't be confined to those people who were relatively small in numbers. We are talking of a maximum of about 25,000 people whereas this violence is far more widespread. So I don't think that that is really the problem. You see the struggle in this country took two forms, one was a guerrilla movement, a guerrilla army of people who of course were under discipline, the other was the mass movement, random violence all over the country by people who were untrained militarily, not disciplined, the people who were committing all the necklace murders and so on, these were not people who were under particular discipline.
POM So indeed you had a situation where anything you did as a child or young adult or whatever, you could say you were doing it in the name of liberation, whether you were robbing somebody or
JM Yes, you'd throw a Molotov cocktail and all sort of things, you'd loot a shop, things which had nothing to do with an actual guerrilla struggle but just violence and I think it is this in the townships and elsewhere which was a component of violence by the authorities as well because you then had violence by the government and its people as we have seen from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearings, a brutality that people hadn't known before, actions committed by the law enforcement agencies. So you do have that combination, the brutalising effect of violence in the society as a whole, many people in fact think we are lucky that the situation is not worse.
POM Identifying the single most urgent problem the SAPS faces?
JM Well it's really two problems. One is having a properly trained police force. We are sitting with a police force with 30,000 people who are functionally illiterate. Now you can't have a police force with 30,000 illiterate people who can't drive vehicles, who can't read and write, who can't make out a statement, who can't take a statement down. These people were recruited by the former government who were not interested in education in the police force but on fellows who knew how to thump, use the baton and so on. So that's a big problem of adequate training and remember we can't just kick out the 30,000 because of the negotiations and arrangements that were made that we are not just going to fire people. So that's the one thing.
The other is investigative capacity. 80% of our detectives were untrained and you cannot have a police service which hasn't got an adequate investigative capacity and therefore the creation of the Detective Academy with the help of the FBI is fundamental. Without it we would make no progress whatsoever.
POM There have been, or at least again the recent newspaper accounts that the middle management structure, that most of the officers, are still from the old guard and there hasn't been very much change at that level. While there has been some change at the top and change at lower ranks, when one looks at the senior management structure, that it is still predominantly members of the old guard who are running the show.
JM That wouldn't be a problem if they were properly, technically competent people.
POM Well are they?
JM Look at what kind of police force we were running. It wasn't a police force, it was a military force whose job was to suppress the majority of the people in this country. You don't need much brains and competence to have a force of that kind which is not interested in crime per se, which is interested in hammering the part of the population and political opponents. It's a very different force now when you say to them you've got to go for criminals, which was not a priority. Suddenly you've got a new priority, new attitudes, new targets, so that the criminal group which has been flourishing over the years virtually without any check now suddenly they become not the informers but they become the targets. They are now the people who have to be put in jail and not the politicians. So it becomes a different story and you cannot in three or four years suddenly transform people from that mentality into becoming good cops whose job is to fight crime and criminal syndicates.
POM How long do you think this process will take? How long before you will say we have an adequately trained police force that can adequately deal with the question of crime, or will crime always be a problem, or certain kinds of crime always be a problem (i) because of the levels of poverty, (ii) because of the level of birth rate there is always another generation of young people coming up who can't find jobs and that there are certain kinds of, even with the best police force in the world, there are certain kinds of crime that it's just almost impossible to get a handle on because they are crimes that arise not out of criminal motivation per se but out of because people have to live?
JM That's a theory. I don't know whether it is a valid one otherwise the poorest countries would have the highest levels of crime and we know that that's not true. So poverty may be a factor but it's not the only factor. I think myself that it would be wrong to take a complex problem such as crime in a complex society and try to thumb-suck some sort of theory about it. If you look at Eastern Europe for example many people thought that in ten years you would have transformed the police services of those countries into British Bobbies and it turns out that it's a far more difficult problem. Some people said ten years and your Hungarian police and other police would be first class. It hasn't happened. Therefore it looks like one has to be careful about predications and, mind you, in our country we haven't even got a homogeneous society, we have got a diverse composition of people. At least everybody in Hungary is a Hungarian with maybe a few gypsies and a couple of Bulgarians and so on, but by and large it's an homogeneous society and yet they are still having difficulties in transforming their law enforcement agencies into user friendly type police forces. They are finding it very difficult.
So I think we also are faced with a major problem to produce a human rights conscious police force and for heaven's sake you, an American, shouldn't be asking me such questions. I don't think your police forces are particularly human rights conscious, some of the things that they do.
POM My police force is the Irish police force.
JM Well? The Irish, where? In Ireland? Well if you have about two million people maybe you can produce a nice police force but if you have 40 million.
POM I'm just making the distinction, I'm not American.
JM You might have 40 million and it may be a problem. Society is too complex. So I don't want to really predict how long it will take us.
POM You touched on what I think is a very important point, it is this whole question of redressing imbalances. I've had a student of mine working, this being the tenth year of the fall of the wall, to say go back and have a look at West Germany and East Germany and if one looks at the billions of Deutsche marks, tens, hundreds of billions that West Germany poured into East Germany ten years ago, this was a very well trained workforce, it wasn't an illiterate workforce or whatever, yet after ten years there are huge differences in the standards of living between East and West, huge levels of differences in the levels of employment, even standards of education. Just huge imbalances that somehow, despite all the money that was thrown at that and all the resources that were there, it hasn't turned around. So you kind of superimpose that on a SA with limited resources, it hasn't thrown money at problems, even greater imbalances.
JM I don't think so. I think that we will do far better than the situation that has developed in Russia and Eastern Europe because we never had a command economy.
POM I'm leaving Russia out, I'm talking about East Germany, the unification of Germany.
JM OK, the unification of Germany, everybody was German and everybody spoke German and the culture, you would assume, would be the same but the one side had a command economy. Now a command economy in a way is like if you don't give your son at age 21 and say now look my friend, you've got to get out of the nest and you've got to go and work and look after yourself. We haven't examined the impact of growing up in a free enterprise economy where each person is not spoon-fed in any way and has to find a way to survive in a competitive environment. There are many people who think the free enterprise system is an easy one, you leave it to the individuals to survive in the environment. Now people are questioning that and particularly because of such experiences as the East German experience. Is there something that you require to master to be able to survive in a free enterprise economy which in a welfare type command economy people don't learn and therefore even if you pour money they are unable to react in the right manner to money and to resources.
POM A developed mindset.
JM Yes, a sort of dependency, my employment is guaranteed, the state will look after my housing, the state will look after my health, the state will look after my education. Then you compare it to the society where every family has to struggle, how do we raise these kids? Where do we get the school? Who pays for the quality? Who does what? I think that gives people a certain skill which we have underestimated because we think anybody can pick it up and if you look at the difference between, say, the Chinese who are ancient traders and what they are doing with the market economy under communism, you see what they are able to do and what other people find it difficult to do who are not really traders and capitalists and so on in their outlook. I sometimes think we need to study a bit more what this trading, not democracy, but trading environment, the Nigerians as traders, what is it which makes them traders, however corrupt but they are traders, they are businessmen and they are able to outwit people in developed countries in this business of money. So it seems there's something we need to study in this free enterprise society which was suppressed in the command economies to their detriment. There are a few who have adapted, there are some people in East Germany who have done well.
POM Did apartheid with blacks, Africans in particular, impose that kind of tendency preventing them from having the opportunity to be traders, to be entrepreneurs, to be creative, to get out of the box into which they had been pigeon-holed?
JM I don't think so.
POM You were saying you didn't think it was?
JM No I don't think that the suppression of the black people could cancel the obvious example in front of them of trading and business and everything else. They may not have been allowed to do it but they could see they lived in a society which was capitalist in character and free enterprise in character and therefore the moment you removed the restrictions on them I would say that in a relatively short time you are going to have a very big black middle class and bourgeoisie in this country, much faster than any one of us can imagine because we don't see what's happening in society. When people start their small businesses and all their activities and so on, governments don't see that. It takes something for them suddenly to realise that they've got a big class of people who are engaged in business and who are beginning to exercise pressure on government of various kinds, lower taxes, do this, do that, which we were already beginning to experience from our new nouveau riche. They are there and they are increasing in very, very large numbers. Therefore I don't think that it can be compared to a society where there was a deliberate attempt to change the system itself, to actually counter the free enterprise system. Here they tried to restrict the free enterprise system to a minority but couldn't entirely remove the example. I mean look at the Indian community and the coloured community who were given some opportunities, but with the Africans once you remove those restrictions and laws, about 137 laws were designed to prevent them from producing a middle class, they will surprise you with the speed with which they will emerge.
POM You talked about Eastern European countries and how difficult it is to effect that change in attitude or outlook that somehow seems to become ingrained generation after generation. Do you think in the townships in particular that what one could call, what many people would call the relative failure of the Masakane Campaign is due much to the same kind of syndrome, that if over a period of time you are told you don't pay for this and you don't pay for that and you don't pay for the other, that when one day you're told to pay it has become counter to a culture that you've already embedded yourself in so it's very difficult to change that.
JM I think it's difficult to change it if you don't utilise the incentives of the free enterprise system. You see you cannot continue with townships and not freehold property. We have been arguing about that, that look here, you've got all these townships and so on which are supposed to be old, where the land is owned by the Municipality and where the houses in which people have been living for years and years still don't belong to them, you must transfer the ownership of these houses and of these lands to these people, then they have a stake, they have a stake in the system. And when you say to them pay, a chap is not just paying for electricity, he's paying for his house, he can get credit from the banks for this and we have been very slow in transferring the ownership of the township houses and the township lands to the people who have been paying rent and so on over the years. Those houses were paid for years ago and we are still expecting people to pay when they don't own the houses and so on. It's the wrong thing. You must give the people the houses, transfer the lands to them, give them an incentive and not merely an exhortation that, look, you now have a legitimate council you must now pay for services. It's not just that. The reason people pay for the services is that they are paying for services to their own houses, their own homes which they own and which will be inherited by their children.
POM Now let me ask you what might appear to be an obvious question and then it might not have an obvious answer at all. Why wouldn't an ANC led government framed in terms of the Freedom Charter which espoused for many years and in many quarters still stands for what would be called social democratic principles, not say give these houses to the people, this is the first step on liberating them, give them their houses? Just as you said, they've paid for them over and over again, it will give them an incentive to pay for their water and their electricity. Why would a government that comes in as a radical, transformation type government not do what appears to be one rather simple but something that would have far-reaching consequences in terms of the way people would behave?
JM Well I think because we have a government that is steeped in South African legalism. The law has been passed to enable that to be done and the thing is stuck with bureaucracy. The bureaucratic it's amazing, I mean I find it incredible because I wrote about this many years ago that one of the first steps of a democratic government must be to transfer these houses and lands in the townships to the people. That would be a radical step and yet a step which really would assist in the creation of a stable middle class. As you say, it's an obvious thing. So everybody went to the trouble of passing a law, we've actually got a law on the statute book which says that this should be done. And what do we do? Every now and again you get the MEC for Housing in a province, there will be a ceremony with reporters and photographers showing him handing a title deed to people who are now taking over their houses. The thing is pathetic. It should have been done at a stroke. There should have been a commission which is provided for in our Deeds Registry laws and the commission should have gone into the township, ascertained who are the people who are entitled in that particular area, and started handing out title deeds left and right. You'd get President Mbeki or somebody to come in and hand out thousands of title deeds. What's happening now? Then they want to find out are their rates up to date, is this happening, and there are no conveyancers, the conveyancers are up to their necks in work. A whole host of bureaucratic reasons are being given for the slow pace of this rather what I would regard as a very easy step which would win a great deal of goodwill and would be a delivery.
POM Sure, yes.
JM I just find, I've asked even lawyer friends of mine what's happening because the lawyers were all waiting, the conveyancers, the banks, everybody was waiting. They are ready to tackle, but then you get the Deeds Registry saying they won't be able to tackle this volume of work. These are the sort of answers that you are getting from the Deeds Registry. So you say, Christ, increase the staff, do something. So the thing is going so slowly that its impact is lost, its impact as a means of inducing people, of showing them that there's a change, that impact is lost. It's absurd.
POM It seems to me there's kind of a well to add to it, not that I've got anything against equality or anything like that, but you have Equality Courts being set up, you've got courts to examine whether speech is being used in a hateful way or a non-hateful way, and you've got resources being spent on this whereas to me it would seem free the people, give them their land, make them homeowners.
JM Especially when they are already there. You're not giving them land belonging to someone else. You are giving them land which is in the hands of the Municipality or the state in which they have lived there, these are actually their practical homes, and I find it, I must tell you, it's one of the serious weaknesses I think in the policies that are being followed, that we haven't done something which by revolutionary standards is actually a very minor step and costs us nothing. The cost of issuing the title deed, that's all it would cost, and registering with the Registry. I'm telling you it's not being done.
Now in the case of the Indian community it was easier. The Indian community had this problem that they had front men, white front men, who were holding property which actually belonged to them. So a law had to be passed allowing for registration of those lands in the names of the real owners and that was done in two years, 18 months, two years and finished. The Indians now own all the properties which we knew they owned but where they had white people as front men.
POM To go back to the bureaucratic nightmare that you referred to, is this the residual 'old guard' holding up things or is the new guard proving to be just as bureaucratic as the old guard?
JM I think the new guard has learnt some bad habits, very bad habits from the old guard. I don't think the old guard is standing there resisting this, they are not interested, there are no whites who are living in those houses or anything like that. They have no interest in the matter. These are townships occupied by blacks, they've always been there in Soweto and Umlazi and all these townships, and yet somehow we seem to be in the same position as we are with regard to state land, not big parastatals, we're not talking about big parastatals where there can be arguments about whether you privatise or not and so on and how you do it and it's complex, but you look at the audit we have done where we have discovered 240,000 pieces of land belonging to the state. The SA state is the biggest landowner in the country and we didn't know it, nobody knew it, not even the previous government knew it. So we have now at last got an audit, it's on disk and is available. Why should those lands which belong to the state not be they don't belong to the white people, the white farmers, it wouldn't affect the commercial farmers, this is state land, state property and I'm telling you you are getting rigmarole people, well now how do we get rid of these assets, how do we sell them? I mean we've been doing a merry-go-round for four or five years and yet this would be an opportunity for a government to make itself so popular cheaply.
POM The question of expropriating land at market value and all that is all gone.
JM All that stuff, willing buyer, willing seller, you get rid of all those problems. Here you've got land which is in the hands of the state.
POM Is this arable land?
JM Well it's all kinds of land, land in urban areas, land in rural areas, and we have just completed the audit. Well the excuse was, we haven't got an audit, so the first thing was to find out what we have. Now we have found out what we have and it amounts to 240,000 pieces of property both in urban and rural areas. Now for God's sake sell them, get rid of them.
POM President Mbeki has promised accelerated delivery and again you're pointing to areas where to put in place the administrative mechanisms to do this could almost be done by presidential decree. Have it sold in six weeks, have it sold in six months.
JM The way it's done is this, it's not as if it hasn't been done before, the law provides where you have a situation like that, where there's a mass of transfers of land to be done, you appoint a commission. They go and sit there, they have a building there somewhere, no lawyers to waste time, that commission has got all the powers to issue title to the right people and they just do it like that. Now there's provision for that, you can actually have, as we did with registering voters, you do that, you start off in this country with no voters' roll and you decide we must establish a voters' roll. So you appoint a commission and you say, right, now you must organise the registration of voters and in two years you do it, you register millions of voters and have a voters' roll. It's the same with land, you can appoint a commission and say, right now you chaps, your job is to transfer these lands to these people, to people who are entitled to them. They sit as a kind of a court and people come along, I've lived in house number so-and-so, this is the number, for 15 years, this is my house, check the municipal records, check everything, yes, you are the person entitled. You see, it can be done fast.
POM So you have a President who is saying - I want things done fast, and yet in those just two areas that you've pointed out in the six months or whatever that he's been in office the situation doesn't appear to have undergone any kind of dramatic change at all.
JM And mind you, it's a change which would also have economic effects. Remember that when you transfer a piece of land to somebody with a house on it and so on, that chap now has equity. He can go to the bank. So you then would not only be transferring land, you would be creating the opportunity for small business. The chap can now go and borrow R10,000 on the turn and he will get it because there's the collateral.
POM So you raised these issues at meetings of ministers? What kind of response do you get?
JM I raised this issue originally with Joe Slovo and Joe Slovo gave me a very peculiar answer, very peculiar answer. This was the Minister of Housing and I said to him, "Look, Joe, you guys are promising that we must build a million houses in five years. That's a big job. Why lay emphasis on that and not on handing to people who already are living in existing houses, we've got something like I don't know how many million units, and transfer those houses to the owners, give them title, freehold title?" You know what he said? "If we are going to build houses on the basis of the payment of bonds, of instalments on borrowed money and on bonds, and simultaneously we are handing houses to people free of charge, that's going to create a certain confusion and so on because people will say why don't we also get free houses, why are we having to pay?" The man was talking nonsense. Those people have been paying, some of them have lived in those houses, I have an uncle who has lived in the same house and paid rent to the Municipality for over 40 years. Now a chap like that has been paying, he hasn't lived there free, and all you are saying is that those people who have been living, you can actually work it out if you have lived 15 years or more you get it free, if you have lived ten years
POM Five years
JM I can't see what the difficulty is in handling this particular matter and I've not been able to get a satisfactory response. But what I have seen, especially in Gauteng, as I say, I've seen once or twice widely publicised handing over of houses in terms of the Act by MECs for Housing and with a picture showing him handing title deeds over, but not on a mass scale. I'm talking of a mass scale, all the towns in SA have got housing estates of this type, townships of this type, and it would reach right down to the smallest town people getting houses from the new government. I mean it's really something I cannot understand.
POM Let me broaden the scope of the question. If something apparently so obvious, with such tremendous benefits both to the people and to the government, can't be accomplished, what chance is there then of the government being able to achieve transformation in much more complex areas if it can't do it in relatively simple areas where the solution stands on its head?
JM Well maybe because sometimes the complex issues like selling a stake in Telkom looks complex, they spend a lot of energy and time on it. This one where it is numbers rather than complexity, it's just a matter of numbers but the actual process is a very, very simple process and I think, I've tried to work it out in my mind, is it bureaucracy, is it a kind of a semi-socialist desire to hang on to government property? I can't quite put my finger on it as to what is the problem. Of course it's a municipal problem largely, it's not actually a central government problem because all these houses and estates and townships you see they are owned by the municipalities, by the local authorities and of course we have local authorities with a lot of problems of capacity. I don't know whether that is the problem that our 800 odd municipalities don't have an adequate capacity to handle this or the provinces because we're not talking of land and houses owned by the central government but by the local authorities. But still one would have expected that the central government would encourage its supporters who control the local authorities to speed up the process and to do something about it and to make it a highly publicised campaign like Mr Kader Asmal's highly publicised provision of water. You could do the same with the houses, very highly publicise the minister going round all over the place handing out title deeds.
POM What a popular minister he would be.
JM I just can't see the difficulty I must say and, as I say, I wrote about this long before freedom came. I was predicting, in fact I was urging the then government, curiously enough, I was urging the previous government in an article that if they did that and they talk about free enterprise, they would
POM Eat their way into the black vote.
JM - they would get a lot of popular support for taking a step like that. It's been a long grouse by people, it's been a long thing. People have been complaining that they were promised when their housing projects started in 1938, people were promised that after the houses have been paid for through the rents the houses would be transferred into your ownership. Then came the NP government and halted the scheme and they, of course, had the theory that blacks are temporary sojourners in the urban areas, they must go back to the homelands. So that was the excuse used to halt the transfer of houses to blacks in the townships but now we get a democratic government pussyfooting on an issue like this and not really getting down to it. I don't know. And I can only say the free enterprise mentality is still not sufficiently prevalent. You need a strong man who is going to go there and hand these houses over to people.
POM That's what President Mbeki is supposed to be. Show me your performance at the end of the month. How many houses have you handed over?
JM I'm telling you this is a big issue in my opinion, it's a big issue. The policy is there. As I say, the law is there, the law is there, it's called the law deals with Extension of Land Tenure Act. In other words converting from municipally owned land and you would transfer it to individuals and the law provides that you can do that and you can do it free of charge.
POM I want to come back and, again as always thank you for the time, this is our last interview of this millennium. I hate the word but I use it anyway. When the history, and we were talking the last time about history and journalism and the different techniques used by one or the other and the long view and the immediate view and whatever, but it has struck me that since I have been coming here, I came here first in 1985, but say seriously since 1989 when I've been continually coming here and living here, that the war in KZN is invariably portrayed as a war where the UDF, the 700 or so organisations who had come together to protest the tricameral parliament and demand more freedoms for Africans, that as it gathered momentum and moved into KZN that Buthelezi, jealous of his territory, turned on them.
JM But he was against the tricameral parliament.
POM I know, but I'm just saying that they were moving into his area, UDF were moving into his area and I'm saying this is the way it was portrayed. Inkatha supporters were at the root of attacking members of the liberation struggle and then you move into the nineties and you see then it becomes Inkatha and the security forces operating in concert with each other, still attacking or trying to wipe out the ANC in KZN because the ANC would in a free and fair election take every vote in KZN. And that kind of impression is left that the IFP is to blame for the violence because they were collaborators in some way with the regime, that the ANC were like innocent lambs, they had nothing to do with it. First of all, do you think that the general portrayal, the propagandised portrayal that has been driven over the years, particularly, naturally, by the ANC that they were little innocent boys who were hounded by a bad IFP?
JM Well I don't want to simplify the issue. First of all of course there's UDF and then later on the ban on the ANC was lifted so from 1990 you then get UDF and ANC, but I think that you are quite right, and this lady Anthea Jeffreys her book is very illuminating.
POM The Truth About the Truth Commission.
JM No, no, not that book.
POM Sorry her other large
JM The large one, Sixteen Years of Conflict, very interesting in that respect. Let's put it this way, it's a warning that was given to revolutionaries by Lenin many years ago, you don't attack a mass movement, you don't do that. You try to isolate the leadership of that mass movement and show that it's reactionary in an endeavour to win over the mass movement on to your side. But if you attack the mass movement directly it reacts. Now if the ANC had been active in SA and had a control over the mass movement I think we wouldn't have had what happened. The UDF consisted of all sorts of people. No, it wasn't a single organisation, it wasn't a disciplined organisation, and was very difficult to control. My own feeling is that the ANC was caught in a cleft stick, it had to support the UDF and yet all their revolutionary training must have told them that this is a mistake because Inkatha is a mass movement in the rural areas. You may not like its policies but it is a mass movement. It may even be, as Lenin says, a reactionary mass movement but it's a mass movement and it is a mistake, just like when you are dealing with reactionary trade unions you don't go on a campaign which pits you in direct opposition to the mass movement. You endeavour through your tactics and your actions to show that the leadership of that trade union is not acting in the interests of the workers, you endeavour to win over the workers to your side.
Now this is, I think, the problem that we had in KZN. Furthermore, if you attack a mass movement like that it will go for any allies it can get, any allies. It won't then say, well we can't work with the NP to protect ourselves, they won't say that. If they're under attack by people who have got weapons, uMkhonto weSizwe and others who actually have weapons, they are going to take decisions and say we also have to get a capacity, we also have to try and arm ourselves; from whom can we get that knowledge? And they will go to the most reactionary people to get it as a matter of survival. You could see it coming from far that this was going to take place, you could see it that it was going to happen. Then of course having a government which would take full advantage of the situation, they were handed a situation on a plate, all you do, you get a kombi, fill it with ten chaps, one night you attack an IFP stronghold, then you dash off and the next night you attack an ANC stronghold, with both groups believing that this has been done by the other, and yet it's being done by chaps from Vlakplaas. It's as easy as pie, very easy to organise that kind of provocation and of course they did it.
POM Again you raise the question why was Anthea Jeffreys book on the war in Natal, which was voluminous and referenced to the last page, why was it ignored?
JM I don't think it was ignored, no it wasn't ignored.
POM It didn't enter into the mainstream of debate where you had a point of there are two sides in this war, they fought each other, there was right and wrong on both sides, it wasn't a question of one being angels struggling for freedom and the other being reactionaries trying to hang on, being propped up by the old order. It was much more complex than that. It is about people in war with each other particularly with a civil war.
JM How can you, an Irishman, be surprised at the longevity of a myth?
POM Not at all.
JM In a situation people will stick to their theory or whatever it is, they will defend it and they will even go to war over it. Do you think those Protestants in the north of Ireland, do they really believe some of the things that they say?
POM Unfortunately they do.
JM They do! There you are, they do. They really believe that it belongs to the Queen. But you and I know perfectly well that if you sit down as a historian, even the most English historian
POM Is this still fuelled by a propaganda?
JM I don't think it is because otherwise you wouldn't have had a government of national unity which is very telling because from the ANC point of view how do they explain to their supporters, what explanation do you give internally in your branches and in your conferences and so on? How do you explain that you are taking the surrogates of the former government and you are bringing them right into the cabinet? How do you explain it? It can only be explained on the basis that what happened in the past isn't quite what it seemed and you and I know it and we'd better not talk too much about it. So that your official ANC assessment is not the same as the propaganda that was spread about all over the place and their actions actually are very curious, they are almost an admission that all the things they said were not quite right.
POM It would seem to me from our last conversation where you had said that the Executive of the IFP and ANC had met in Durban and agreed that there should be joint rallies and then that Harry Gwala put a stop to that, that by the ANC going along with that action and that kind of hauling into line and saying you've got to be a loyal and disciplined member, and the NEC made a decision and that's the decision, there are going to be joint rallies, that in a sense the ANC were responsible for perpetuating the circumstances that made killing more easy.
JM And continued. I think so. I think it's a story that still needs to be written because contemporary attitudes very rarely correspond with the actual truth. There's a lot of propaganda and so on. For example, if you look at the violence that occurred outside KZN where there was no IFP, there was massive violence in many areas. The necklacing started in Port Elizabeth, even in Uitenhage, the attack on councillors and others and people in local government were regarded as stooges and so on, it started in Uitenhage and went on for quite a long time before it reached KZN. In fact some people think that after an editorial in The Mercury saying we have got violence all over the country except KZN, it was only then the UDF chaps realised that they must do something to stir up trouble in KZN.
POM In your estimate again, long view, since the events would have happened nearly 30 years ago now, or 20, was the split between Chief Buthelezi and the ANC one of those splits that was in hindsight preventable?
JM I don't think so. I don't think it could have been prevented. You see the ANC had a belief that the strategies of negotiation and non-violence had failed. The ANC had tried those policies for 48 years before it was banned and therefore it adopted the policy that only, and they used the word 'only' many times, only armed struggle could advance the cause of freedom. Now one of the consequences of taking such a decision, because it's fundamental, because it's a life and death issue, is that it calls for complete loyalty to the idea and anyone outside that who is trying something else or is doing something else is a traitor. This you find all over the place whether it's Israel with the Irgun and Haganah and others, all the other fellows who were wanting to talk to the British during the days of the Mandate, they were regarded as traitors and wherever you have an armed struggle there is a split in the nation, whether it's in Vietnam with the Vietminh and the other people who say, no, no we must talk and negotiate with the Americans or the French, they are regarded as traitors and you then get an internal war among the Vietnamese themselves, in other words a war to determine whose view is going to prevail. I think this was bound to happen. I wasn't surprised at all when the conflict I'm just surprised it wasn't as bad as in many other countries like Angola, Mozambique; look what happened. We are still living with the split in the national movement and differences in tactics leading to conflict.
POM Just finally with regard to the TRC, it's now reached a kind of a dead end so to speak. They're still giving amnesties here and there but otherwise its activities have stopped except for giving reparations which everybody is displeased with and are saying - is that all we're getting and how long is it taking? With the outstanding cases, just in your own opinion, the 200 people that were named that if they didn't respond to the commission, and they include the ANC, I think 31 of them, some in cabinet positions, I think including Mbeki himself, if they didn't respond to the 'charges' made against them by the time the commission was going to publish its findings that their files would be handed over to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal liability, do you think that (a) there is any possibility, remote possibility of say Dr Buthelezi being indicted on charges?
JM Like what? Remember we're not talking of a commission, we're talking about a court. Charges mean charges in a court of law where the rules of evidence apply, where the procedures apply and where you've got to put your case beyond reasonable doubt, not based on allegations which are untested, which must be a criminal act in terms of our law. You can't say as the commission said, Buthelezi is morally responsible for human rights violations in KZN. Well in a court of law you won't even be able to start if that's how you begin, that we are charging this man for 'moral responsibility'. You can't even frame a charge. So I don't think myself that we are going to get very far once the process is completed. But remember the commissioners are not lawyers. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others they are not lawyers, they don't realise how lucky they were to be handling a commission where you didn't have the procedures excluding hearsay evidence and all that stuff, they didn't have that. That thing was, from a legal point of view, a nice little circus. It had a big value from a mass psychological point of view, people came along, they heard what happened and so on and you had a revivalist atmosphere rather like one of Rev. Billy Graham's big revivalist mass meetings, but once you reduce it to a court and the need to frame a charge then you will have to be specific as to dates, times, who, what, where, and you can't do it.
POM The other end of the spectrum would be Winnie Mandela.
JM Well it's the same thing with Winnie Mandela. What charges can you bring?
POM So do you see a situation of an undeclared amnesty taking place?
JM No it won't be amnesty at all, it will simply be inability of the prosecuting authorities to bring a case. That happens with the prosecutors every day, they are confronted with the problem of having to decline to prosecute because they don't have enough evidence.
POM With hindsight do you think the commission did much harm to the country?
JM I don't think so. I think that what they did to let out all the
POM Pent up
JM I think it did a good job, but that is the limit of its usefulness, the fact that people were given an opportunity and a platform and many of the perpetrators came forward, on promise of amnesty they came forward and gave us details we would never have known because if they hadn't got amnesty promised to them they wouldn't have come forward. That was a key factor that you say to a chap, give details, evidence of what you did or what happened and you will get amnesty and the law actually said you must get amnesty. That enabled these chaps to come forward and provide very interesting information which we would never have known of people buried all over the country and so on. We would never have known all those things. So I think that the fact that the society confessed its sins as it were and that the victims were able to actually see who it was who killed their loved ones in a process that was widely publicised and televised, I think this has had an important psychological effect that people can now say, OK, let the matter rest.
POM A final question. You have spent most of your life involved in the struggle for the freedom of South Africa, now it has attained that freedom. Is the SA that is emerging the SA that you envisaged during all those years, whether active here or active abroad or wherever, or is it something slightly different? Is it living up to your expectations?
JM I think it's extraordinarily close to what we expected. You see you must remember that many people in the world, especially in the West, believed that the ANC was communist inspired, which was untrue and all the attempts of the ANC to deny it were ignored because they were supported by the Soviet Union, other Eastern bloc countries, the Communist Party of South Africa was supporting it, and people said, all right, your policies are liberal, there is nothing strange about the Freedom Charter, it could be any sort of it's not as radical as the policies of the Labour Party in Britain in terms of whatever
JM Yes, it's nothing compared to that, but we don't believe, we think that you fellows are crypto-communists and that if and when you get into power you will introduce typical communist measures. And what do we get? We don't get that, we get precisely what the ANC has been saying, we will introduce a democratic constitution, we will introduce this, that and the other, all the things which were not believed are the things that are happening and all that business about communism and whatnot have really been proved to be incorrect.
POM So when you see the ANC setting up the so-called Redeployment Committee, issuing documents saying we must have our people in key positions in every element of society, does that not strike you a little bit similar to what the NP said it would do in 1948, kind of infiltrate, as it were, all segments of society so it has its people placed in all strategic positions whether it's civil society, business, labour or whatever?
JM If it's based on a democratic system. Every political party does that, we all do that. The IFP sits down and certainly in KZN we don't just say appoint that fellow because he's competent. People ask the question, is he pro-IFP or is he pro-ANC or is he what? Sometimes they have to appoint somebody even if he's pro-ANC because that's the only candidate available or whatever, but if they have a choice they prefer their own chaps. But what I do not agree is that you can compare that with the cadre policy of a communist party. That's a different thing altogether because there a communist party has got one ideology, the ANC has got many ideologies, it's a non-class party, it's got so many different it's got Christians and Muslims and whatnot and communists. Now if you want to introduce a cadre policy of infiltration the way a communist party does it, it's only possible if you have a monolithic ideology which everybody in that party espouses. You can't get it with a different kind of organisation. You can't say that I accept all Africans, all South Africans as members of the ANC no matter what their ideologies, and then say that that party is going to infiltrate people. Well they'll infiltrate them but they're just infiltrating South Africans into the positions who happen to be favourable to them but they won't be espousing a particular ideology. That's the difficulty that you have with the ANC. Now the Afrikaners when they established the NP, when it tried to do that, to push it's own people, of course that was being done by the Broederbond. The Broederbond had a set of principles that the Afrikaners must be supreme in all the various fields, they must try and keep out the Jews and the English and so on and have Afrikaners appointed. They did that, it wasn't particularly I mean it was being carried out by a minority so there was no check, no checks and balances so they really became a kind of Mafia type of group which of course led eventually to massive corruption as well. But I don't think, I'm not worried about the ANC saying they want to get their people into all kinds of positions and so on if anyone can be a member of the ANC. So far they haven't said only people with brown eyes can be members of the ANC. Then we would be worried.
POM Thank you ever so much.