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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Aug 2000: Burton, Mary

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

MB     Hello, Padraig, how are you?

POM     I'm fine, how are you? Where do I begin today?

MB     I can begin by apologising for not having sent you back the scripts and so on.

POM     Oh that's OK. I know you must be up to your neck in trying to wrap things up. Let me start with, I've just finished talking to Jeremy Cronin which took longer than I thought.

     You have gone through an extraordinary process that is now winding up. What are the lessons that you have learnt from the process, the lessons you think the country has learned from the process, and if another country that had gone through a conflict situation, if that were to ask for your advice on how it should go about establishing a Truth & Reconciliation Commission or a commission along those lines, what advice would you give them from your experience? What things should they put emphasis on? What things should they regard as pitfalls and things to avoid? That's a nice quite short question to open this.

MB     OK. I think that we learned there was value in listening to a number of people's accounts of what happened and recording that and documenting as much as we could of that. So there was both the factual aspect of maybe putting some record straight or at least getting different versions of them that could be compared in the future and also the therapeutic aspect of people being able to tell their stories, although I think that there have been very grand claims for that which maybe are not possible to be met but nevertheless I think that there was a component of that. I think other societies in conflict have found the same thing, that telling of stories is important.

     The other thing I would say is important is that it should not be, if one's going to go the Truth Commission route and not have trials, one shouldn't confuse the two. It should be very clearly not trials where judicial type findings are made because the difficulties of doing that properly are very great and I think we particularly see that in the amnesty process where it has been very long drawn out because of the involvement of so many lawyers representing both the applicants and the victims or families of victims. Therefore, the hearings have gone on and on and on like court cases do with constant postponements for people to get additional documents and all that sort of thing. So I think I would try to keep the aspect of Truth Commissions very separate from the aspects of trials.

     What else? I think one of the things I find difficult to decide about is that the Truth Commission had a quite of leeway in deciding what sort of violations it would examine and many other commissions have looked simply at disappearances and deaths and maybe torture. We had this additional category of  severe ill treatment.

POM     Sorry, of which treatment?

MB     Severe ill treatment, that's the wording in the legislation, and we ourselves interpreted that very broadly because there was no clear definition of it. Even in international documentation those words are not used. So it meant that we grappled with was it severe if you lost an arm or a leg or was it only severe if you were killed, that sort of thing. Maybe it would have been easier for us if it had been much more clearly defined and much more limited. On the other hand if one looks at the more therapeutic aspects, the telling of the stories of people who suffered what might not be life threatening experiences but certainly affected their lives, provides a very rich picture of what happened in those years. If one looks at it as telling a different aspect of our history it's a very rich record that the TRC leaves behind and I have not really made up my mind as to which would be better. I think in human terms what we did is better. In practical terms it made the work very difficult.

POM     Now I want to refer you to a case, this was a case that was brought by two policemen in connection with violations of human rights in the Eastern Cape and it was a case involving two policemen, a man named Abraham du Plessis and Nic van Rensburg. They went to court to get an injunction saying their rights were being violated by the manner in which they had been asked to submit statements to the Truth Commission and the judge came down in their favour. That was overturned by the High Court and then the initial verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court.

MB     That's right.

POM     It said that perpetrators have the same rights as those making the allegations against them and that perpetrators should receive all documentation of allegations, names of witnesses, names of this, names of that beforehand and should have the right to cross-examine if necessary or offer rebuttal to the allegations made. Now General van der Merwe, of course, from his own position says that even though the SAP won that case that by and large, except for the Amnesty Committee, the Committee on Violations of Human Rights simply never followed that procedure. They called victims but they didn't call the people against whom allegations were made as such information perhaps would become a matter of the huge scale of the thing was not provided in representation of the 'other side', was not possible when people made these allegations in public or told their stories in public, that it was in a sense a one-sided process.

MB     Yes, well that case dictated from then onwards, and it was quite early in the life of the Truth Commission, it dictated the way that we had to deal with the question of naming of perpetrators so it was one of the things that caused a great deal of anger because we had to tell victims when they testified at public hearings that unless all the procedures had been followed about notifying the person in good time, looking at their responses and so on, some of which was not possible, they could not name the perpetrator. It was one of the sources of very great anger on the part of the family of the Mthimkulus for example.

POM     Oh this was the case the family were involved in.

MB     That's right. That was an extraordinary judgement in some ways we think because if a person is charged in court. and obviously there has to be sufficient evidence to bring a charge in the first instance, but if a person is, say, subsequently acquitted he or she has nevertheless been publicly named and yet the Truth Commission which was not a court was subject to more rigorous regulation by that case than even the courts are because we were not allowed to name people. Even when we gave them every possibility of clearing their names during the hearing we were not allowed to name them beforehand. So it placed a very severe constraint on the ways in which we worked and it means that in our final report there are very few cases where we were able to publish names because there simply was not time to go through all the process that that judgement required of us. So from that stage onwards it placed a very severe constraint on the way the commission functioned.

POM     On the other hand did it also mean that when a 'victim', and I don't like that word

MB     It's the word we have to use because of the legislation but we always try to put it in quotes.

POM     That when they would make their allegations at public hearings, that those allegations couldn't be tested by cross-examination because they were not naming a specific individual?

MB     That's right, that's true. That was the process of the public hearings, it was the deponent's chance to speak, not the perpetrator's chance to speak.  It is very different from the way the amnesty hearings have turned out with participation from all sides but it certainly does mean that we did not name many, many people against whom there was considerable evidence but there wasn't a procedure that we could go through which would abide by that regulation.

POM     Because if you had, if the person had named (I just want to get it right in my mind) if the person had named in public an individual then that individual would have had to have been informed by the committee beforehand that they were going to be named at such and such a public hearing and that they have the right to bring their counsel along and it would have also opened up the person telling the story to cross-examination by the legal representatives of the person who had been named which would have changed the character of the public hearings considerably.

MB     That's right. We certainly wouldn't have entered into a situation where the counsel was then putting a version of the defence, and that sort of thing, that was not there, the way it was designed to work. But obviously we were not intending to name people against whom we had no evidence so in any case people were notified beforehand if they were going to be named and given an opportunity to respond and when we came to the end of the process and we were making findings we were sending hundreds of letters to people saying, "We are contemplating making a finding against you, what is your response to this?" Since many of the responses said, "I need more time and I am consulting my lawyer and I can't answer you", there wasn't time to wait for that and so we simply didn't use their names in the final report. Where people wrote back and provided clear evidence for instance, I remember writing a letter to a man with a very common surname and this name had been cited in the deponent's statement as having been at a particular police station, as having tortured this person, and I got a frantic phone call from the man who said, "I wasn't even here then and I can show you my record and I was based at some other place", or "I wasn't even in the police force", or whatever, so we just apologised. He just happened to have the wrong surname but to be now in the police station where the incident played out allegedly by somebody with the same name 30 years ago had occurred. So we simply said, "Well obviously we won't mention you in that case." So there was a real attempt to match the needs of the perpetrators but, admittedly, not in any kind of judicial way.

POM     You know my interest in Boipatong, we talked about it before, and I'm going back there in fact after I talk to you. I have already been out there on two or three occasions and I have been talking to the families of victims who are willing to talk. One of the 'nice' things from the massacre is that they have a church service every Thursday morning where the families of the victims get together, so I'm going out to attend one of their services. This is a kind of a two-part question.

MB     Sorry, can I just ask you about the service? Is that just the Boipatong people or is that one of the Kulumani groups that works with all victims? I'm fascinated to hear that they

POM     It could be. This is the Elder of the Catholic Church in Boipatong and he brings the families -  I'll just leave a message with you tomorrow after I go out there today and see exactly what it is. And there's another grouping in Sharpeville that do something too so I'm intending to go out there.

MB     I'm just very pleased to hear it.

POM     What I want to know, I've been trying to learn about the process and I've interviewed TRC researchers and advocates for the people who were involved, who were convicted in the Boipatong massacre, involved in their trial, in fact were involved in their amnesty applications, and the lot. What I'm trying to learn about or get a clear picture is of the process. One researcher, whose name I won't mention, worked for the commission and was one of the researchers who wrote up the body of the report, said her task would be that if the commission say we're looking into some incident in, let's say Soweto, that they would prepare a background briefing paper setting out a topography of the area, what had occurred, the allegations made including news media accounts of the incident, and these were given to the commissioners and sometimes they made a list of questions that might be asked, suggested questions that might be asked, follow-up questions and things like that. These were given to the commissioners, the commissioners then went to the area. Prior to going there TRC members would have gone out and informed the community that a hearing was going to be held and asked people who had stories to tell to come forward so that they could take statements and that people came forward, statements were taken. Then from maybe 200 people who had maybe submitted statements either the researchers or the commissioners themselves would choose maybe 20 to tell their stories at the public hearing, that these 20 would be balanced by gender, by race, by whatever, and that each commissioner would have a copy of the statement they had made before the person told their story on a public stand. After that when it came to writing up the commission's report the researchers would write the background and send the background to the commissioners and the commissioners would insert their conclusions, that they would then go back and in many cases go through the transcripts of that particular hearing to look for, find quotes from victims that supported the conclusions of the commissioner's. That then went through an editing process and out of that came the final report. Is that fairly accurate or am I inaccurate?

MB     No, I think that's fairly accurate. Let me just say what we used in this region as, for instance, the criteria for selection of people who would testify in public

POM     This is in the Western Cape?

MB     Yes. I think it was general, I certainly documented it at a Human Rights Violations Committee meeting and nobody said that's not what we do. I think it was generally accepted as the mechanism. As you say, age, gender, but also an attempt to find people from all sides of the political conflict so that out of the say 20, 25 or 30 who would testify in public they would not all be ANC victims or PAC victims or IFP victims. Sometimes it wasn't very easy in an area that had been an IFP stronghold or an ANC stronghold. For example, the tendency was for people to come forward from one side of the divide depending partly on where statement takers had been, on how statement takers were viewed and that sort of thing, but it was one of those conscious criteria used in public hearings.

POM     Did you have, since the IFP refused at least formally to take part in the hearings, did you have trouble outside of KZN, did you have trouble getting people coming forward since they had been supporters of the IFP and had been instructed not to co-operate?

MB     I think particularly at the beginning, yes, but I think gradually there began to develop a feeling that if you didn't come forward and make a statement you might be excluded from whatever reparations there might be. Victims began to think no matter what their leadership says they must take the opportunity, but I do think that probably there was a significant slant the other way and I think that's one of the reasons that one had to try and make a real effort. In other words the choice of people testifying in public often didn't reflect the numbers. You might have 200 statements from one side and half a dozen from another but one would deliberately choose, even though the number was not representative, in order to try and provide a balance.

     The other step that you didn't mention in that process was the role of the investigations team. Certainly in our region, and I think everywhere, before we made that selection we made sure that those statements that were going to be spoken about in public had had at least some investigation work done into them. It was an attempt also to meet the needs of the perpetrators, that one wouldn't be making accusations that wouldn't stand up to some examination.

POM     Just on that, I want to quote to you from a paper by Graham Simpson which is called 'A Brief Evaluation of South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission: Some lessons for societies in transition', in the course of which he says: -

     "The problems of access to information have also been further complicated by limitations of the TRC's own investigation unit. Apart from the dire lack of human resources only 60 investigators were employed to investigate as many as 20,000 cases. This under-staffing was also compounded by reliance on investigators who were themselves often drawn from the ranks of former SA Police personnel."

          Are those assertions true?

MB     It is true that the resources were nowhere near adequate for the kind of investigations that might have been done and in fact that is really quite a serious point about lessons learnt from the process which ought to have come to my mind earlier on. So Graham is quite right on that basis and that's why in many cases, for instance, in a particular area there were 200 statements, the only ones that got some investigation were often the ones we were going to use in public, certainly in those early stages when we were still having hearings. Sometimes we could go back later and investigate further. We tried not to make findings where there hadn't been some basic investigation. For example, if a person alleged that they had been tortured in a rural police station we would go, the investigators would go and look at the Police Day Book in that area and if that person's name was down as having been detained for 48 hours or something in that police cell and there were other people who made statements that they had been tortured in that police station at about that time, we very often made a finding that that was likely to be true. But we very often did not mention the policemen because there was not enough proof. That sort of investigation got called various different things like 'low level corroboration' and so on.

POM     Had you mentioned the name of the policemen would you again have been subject to the ruling of the Supreme Court, that in that case he would have to say, "Show me the evidence, show me the person, show me the witnesses, give me the chance to cross-examine them", and in effect hold up the process? If you did that in every case you would probably be on case three.

MB     That was the basis of the kind of investigation that was done. That sort of investigation, for instance, there would have been absolutely nothing wrong with a past police officer as one of the investigators doing that. He or she would be perfectly competent to do it and there wouldn't have been any negative political why people wouldn't speak to such a person.

POM     Why would that be so in the light of the fact that many of the allegations and findings themselves involved the security forces? It's like sending a former member of the security forces or the SAP to investigate an incident where the person would be implicating the SAP? Why would that person be trusted?

MB     I'm not saying that one shouldn't get into the detail of the security forces, I'm saying you could send out, find somebody to look into a Police Day Book but they're not going to likely find obstruction and we didn't find very much obstruction in that kind of thing.

POM     Sorry, looking at a police?

MB     A Police Day Book in a certain police station. It was very much a deeper, more probing investigation into really the planning of major security force activity that might have been much more difficult if it had been only police personnel who were seconded to the TRC. But investigators were certainly by no means, I don't have the figures to know how many were police and how many were not, but many of the investigators came either from the ranks of the liberation movement, people who have come back from exile very often who were journalists, investigative journalists who had been digging and trying to expose the truth previously. So you could say there was another bias but I think it was countered from within the and of course there was this very strong team of international investigators who did, I think, sometimes feel (it would be quite interesting to interview them) who did feel frustration at the lack of skills among the more junior investigating teams, but who brought to those teams a quality of investigation that I think was very important.

POM     Would I be able to get a list of who those people were and where they are now?

MB     I really don't know. I suppose the TRC would have that. It's not anywhere in the report that sort of list of personnel. It probably would be in something like the CEO's report. I haven't looked to see. I don't see why the TRC office shouldn't be willing to give it out.

POM     I'll try that myself. In relation to that, limitations of the capacity of the investigative unit, Simpson also says: -

     "The cost cutting exercise in critical areas amounted to leaving the TRC with an 'unfunded' mandate to investigate and compile as complete a picture as possible of past conflict. If such a truth recovery process is to be successful then it would be exceedingly costly and there can be little reason for undermining the process by under-funding it."

          I suppose my question is, and again I use this in relation to Boipatong, is the discovery of half truth better than the discovery of no truth? Is the discovery of what is partial truth, since it is not the whole truth is there such a thing as partial truth, since if you knew the rest of the truth it might change the context of the partial truth you had accumulated? If you can follow me.

MB     Yes. I've been reading our last interview about Boipatong. It is very difficult. I'd like to just go back for one minute to Van Rensburg and Du Plessis. The ironic thing is that when the investigation then got under way they eventually applied for amnesty. So they had put this real constraint on the TRC and eventually acknowledged quite clearly that they were responsible for what we were trying to talk about.

POM     I'll give you my counter story to that which is very quick and it involves the advocate for the men who had been convicted of the Boipatong massacre. They appealed the verdict and while they were appealing the verdict the 17 applied for amnesty, so he was also representing them before the Amnesty Committee. So in the morning he was going to the Appeals Court arguing that they were innocent and in the afternoon he was going before the committee saying, "Sure, they were guilty as hell, they just said they are."  It's a bit confusing at times.

MB     I don't know that I really agree with Graham about more money. I think the TRC costs have been an absolutely terrifyingly large amount of money.

POM     He says that you spent over R200 million but yet the investigative unit was certainly under-resourced. I suppose the question I'm going back to is that if as a result of an inadequate or poor investigation only parts of the truth were uncovered and yet they were written up as the full truth, does that not do more damage to the process of truth recovery than if you said if we review the investigation here we can see it was a very incomplete investigation, that many things were not investigated that should have been investigated and therefore rather than reaching a finding one thing that struck me in reading portions, because it will take one years to read the entire report, is the absolute certainty with which findings were made where very often the grounds on which they appear to be made appear to be somewhat flimsy or incomplete. Maybe incomplete is a better word.

MB     Having been thinking about the questions that you asked me before, I think it probably would have been better if sometimes we had said, "This is the evidence we have gathered so far, we're not in a position to make an absolute finding because we know there are other sides to the story", or words to that effect. On the other hand there was this great pressure to conclude the business and I think that is one of the factors that influenced those findings we made, we kept saying that this is not a judicial system and yet we were making findings as if we were a court and had raised the evidence. I think in that respect perhaps it would have been better to say that the door is still open on this one, or we have a very strong feeling that this is the case but we haven't got the proof. Easy to say that with hindsight.

POM     Again he says: -

     "There is a grave risk that through the testimony and confessions of the few a truth is constructed which disguises the sustained levels of marginalisation and exclusion which continue to reflect the systematic oppression, exploitation of black South Africans under apartheid. This view represents a romantic notion of a post-conflict South Africa in the wake of the TRC and denies the extent to which the fundamentals of social and economic justice have not been undertaken by the TRC through its much narrower mandate. Yet in the continuity of marginalisation and exclusion which the TRC did not hope to fully redress, resides a simple truth that far from overcoming conflict and violence in SA the roots of such violent confrontations have essentially remained the same. However, in the slide from political to criminal violence we should detect that it is simply the form of expression of violent conflict which has shifted in nature."

          Would you agree with that?

MB     Yes I would to a very great extent. I think one of the problems about the TRC was because of its high profile and it's budget it was regarded by many people as being the solution to all ills. I remember we spoke once before about Professor Mahmoud and his defining the terms, his criticism of the TRC as being that it had made scapegoats of a few and thereby absolved the majority of the beneficiaries of apartheid from any responsibility not only for what happened in the past but for taking some action to remedy the present situation.

POM     Quickly, spell his name please?

MB     Surname is Mamdani and his first name is Mahmoud. He was at UCT and he has left UCT now and I'm afraid I'm not certain where he is.

POM     But I might be able to trace him. Did he write an article about this?

MB     I've been trying to trace the article because it's been much talked about and where it is to be found, rather frustratingly, is in a series of booklets which are published well they're available from IDASA and they're called 'Beyond Racism'. They are the papers of a conference which was held here in Cape Town which brought together people from Brazil and the States and South Africa looking at racism but it was during the course of that conference that he raised it. It was very much seen at the time as an attack on the TRC and Alex Boraine was very much on the defensive about it. But I think he raised a really important point and it's the same one that Graham is making, that the divisions in SA remain divisions based on those who are advantaged or not advantaged, largely those who are white but not only now, and this huge mass of people who are still poor, who still have no opportunities for whom nothing has changed. All of us see that anger all the time. People had expectations that somehow the TRC could do something about that.

POM     In that regard, and it's becoming a bigger issue now, and this is on the whole issue of reparations, one of the things I ran across in Boipatong was the very angry - we were talking about it, but families saying we haven't received anything yet or we received R2000 and some families received something, others have not received anything, or we have received nothing, i.e. spurring even more resentment and anger. Why did they get it and not us? And the marches by the victims themselves to Cape Town demanding a payout. The government, again, doesn't seem to be handling this issue very well.

MB     This is a source of great concern to the TRC and also to the number of NGOs that I work with and we are doing everything we can to exert pressure on the government to at least respond to the recommendations. It has not done so. The documentation of our interview in February 1999, I was mildly saying, "Oh, any minute now the government is going to have a big discussion and it's going to respond to all of these issues." It still has done nothing. I find it very hard to understand because politically if I were a leader of the ANC I would see that there's a marvellous opportunity to get some credit. It's not such a vast amount of money in terms of the national budget overall but even if they decided not to pay the reparations that the TRC recommended, some indication of what they do intend to do would avoid this ongoing and growing expectation of what might be done.

POM     Do you think there's a danger that people's initial expectations when reparations were first mooted that they had visions like when they were promised houses, everyone promised a house prior to the election in 1994 and expectations soared and then there was this kind of disappointment that set in, that even when reparations are paid that many people will say, "Is that all? I had an expectation of getting a lot more. I had an expectation of the government fixing my life in some way."

MB     I think that's true. I think there is an expectation on the part of people who testified to the TRC but I think there is also an expectation on the part of the mass of people who have very little hope in life let alone of getting a house, but of getting a job or having better education, of opportunities for their children, all the things that need to be done. I've never believed that people really thought that they were going to get a house the day after the elections. A lot of white people both mock and fear that kind of vision. I think that people in this country, black people in this country, are much more realistic but I think they hoped, and had a right to hope, that things would be easier, that access would be easier. It is an absolute disgrace that welfare payments far from being better are worse than they were before, but a number of other things that might ease people's lives are worse than before. Part of it is just inexperience and part of it is fear of making mistakes and fear of corruption and therefore do nothing rather than do the wrong thing. There is a lot that is wrong and that could be fixed and must be fixed.

POM     The non-payment of pensions and money left over in the welfare fund seems mind boggling when you hear the government on the one hand saying we must redress and we are committed to redressing the injustices of the past, and then saying, "Oh we have a budget surplus in this department and it all relates to the poor." It doesn't relate to the army, they spend all their money.

MB     It's unforgivable, it really is. We have to address it.

POM     This is one more statement, it's the last time I'll go to Graham, but I found some of his statements intriguing since he did this paper before the TRC report was published.  One is that he makes the argument, he says : -

     "Perhaps one of the greatest failures of the TRC was its general failure to either utilise and build the unique capacities of organs of civil society, particularly non-governmental organisations championing human rights, to maximise its achievements. The dynamics within the TRC did more to isolate human rights NGOs from the process than to draw them in."

MB     OK. Graham and I have talked often about this and I think he knows that I agree with him. One just has to accept that those were the dynamics. Maybe that again is one of the lessons one should learn, that one doesn't start an experience like this with a clean slate and here were these organisations like the Black Sash, like the Centre for the Study of Violence, like the Human Rights Committee, like the Institute of Race Relations which had documentation available, which had kept records over the years, which knew quite a lot about counselling and listening and so on. It was my belief that we should have immediately built a network and drawn on those very organisations, for instance for statement taking purposes, for assistance in the research and investigations department and so on. But almost all of those organisations were headed by white people. They had a long record of existence from the past and many newcomers in the South African body politic knew little about what they had done but simply saw organisations with money, resources and white faces at the top and they felt that the TRC was starting afresh and they were very suspicious of any kind of racism in the process of appointments within the commission and in the process of building alliances with other organisations. There simply wasn't time to work through all of those feelings.

     I think it is true that we missed a really valuable opportunity to build on past experience. It was a pity it just didn't work out.

POM     That raises an obvious follow-up question which is: to what extent did the issue of race either bind or influence or in some way affect the manner in which the commission itself worked, just the workings of the commission and the way it went about doing its work?

MB     The issue of race bedevils everything in SA and I think it's just not possible to say that people are untouched by racism. There are very few of us who are white who don't have racist feelings beside us even if we wish we didn't and there are very, very few black people, even the most highly educated and highly skilled and highly advantaged who don't somewhere inside them feel the hurt that comes from having been discriminated against. We would be very foolish to deny that's there. Now some people have the ability to transcend that, to acknowledge and to transcend it. We were lucky, we had some of those people in the commission, but for others it is very, very deep and it's very hard to pull away from it and it affects everything. So when an appointment is made, when a decision is taken, the question of whether there are white people who are going to benefit yet again from this is very close to the surface.

     The question of opportunities, job opportunities for people in the TRC, there was always a factor of one must look at opportunities for people who have not had them in the past which means that sometimes people are not skilled enough to do the work. So there is an important factor. On the other hand there were some truly wonderful people in the commission who were able to use it as an opportunity for people to acquire skills and without letting the work suffer. I certainly learnt some very good lessons from some of our staff who were extremely good at developing skills within people in that potential. But, yes, when there was argument over a principle, over an action, over a decision, very often the decision would divide into racial lines. Very often accusations were made against white people of racism even when they themselves could not possibly

POM     That's white people on the commission?

MB     Yes. That doesn't only apply to the TRC, it applies right through.

POM     This is on racism again and the whole question of reconciliation. I have been more struck than ever I think in the last year by the increasingly strident way in which the term is hurled about, about the manner in which the accusations and allegations of racism appear to be mounting on every front and that rather than SA moving towards reconciliation, in many regards it seems to be moving towards more polarisation along race lines. (i) Do you think that's right? (ii) Do you think that that's a necessary thing that the country has to go through, that it has to go through this to get beyond, that this is in itself, nasty as it is, part of the process of reconciliation?

MB     Yes to both. I think it is very, very painful and very uncomfortable and quite frightening but I think it is a necessary process. I wish we could do it better but I think we have to go through it, although sometimes I find it very much at odds with some of the people who are articulating the accusations of racism yet I know that they are sincere in those views and that has to be taken into account. I may think they're wrong but the fact that they think the way they do is an issue.

POM     Let me approach this in, not in a different way, but I had a meeting the other day with Mac Maharaj and we were talking, once again, about the negotiating process and how important trust was and how important the development of trust between antagonists was. He made a very interesting comment to me, one that kind of jolted me, he said more important than trust was respect, you had to develop respect for your opponent and that respect didn't necessarily involve trust. Do you think that in parliament and in other institutions that the parties there have respect for each other? For example, I was quite horrified when I read the response of the ANC to the formation of the Democratic Alliance by saying, "Well, now a whole bunch of racist pigs have just gotten together." It showed no it didn't say you had to agree with them or even that they may represent a certain segment of the population, they showed contempt.

MB     Yes, that's why I say that this is a very worrying period that we are going through and we may be going in the wrong direction. I think that question of trust and respect is very important and I remember saying in the Northern Ireland situation that one shouldn't look too much for trust, it's almost impossible for past enemies to trust each other, but the process of negotiations has to be one which is sufficiently open and transparent for there to be very little that has to be left to trust. If your cards are all on the table and the steps that you are taking are very visible, open to inspection, that begins at least to build trust or at least belief in the process. I think what happened then was that the negotiators developed respect for one another and I think even in parliament, in the first parliament, there was a sense of respect. I think, for example, of people like Colin Eglin and Ken Andrew's long history of involvement in opposition politics, who made really important contributions to the Finance Committee, to the management of government, who really in a way assisted the new government. Now maybe that's a racist view of mine that here are white guys who are competent, but they were competent because of their years of experience, not because of their colour and they had something to contribute. I think that some of the very strong racism, anti-white racism that is apparent now, comes from the sort of despair and frustration of the government at not being able to do what it wants to do and its failures in the Welfare Department, for example, and the extent of corruption within its own party it's having to deal with. I think it's a very human reaction in that sense of inadequacy to lash out and I think that's what's happening.

POM     But it's in a sense projecting its failures onto the opposition of the opposition, where the opposition of the opposition is so small it doesn't really make any difference anyway.

MB     But it can point very, very clearly and sharply at inadequacies and that hurts.

POM     It's like being told you're not a very adequate person.

MB     I think that's where it's coming from. It doesn't help very much to think that, help to deal with the situation except that I think always understanding does help a bit and it's certainly not going to make Tony Leon couch his criticism in more charming language or the kind, in a way, of positive assistance which I think a good democratic opposition can give. Working in the parliamentary portfolio committees and so on you can do a lot of good practical help rather than grandstanding. Maybe the both have to happen for politicians, it's too much to expect of opposition politicians to praise their opposition, but still there are things for the good of the country that could be done.

POM     Just a couple more questions, not that I have a lot more but I'm going to run out to Boipatong to this service that takes place at 12. Maybe I'll be in Cape Town in September, maybe I'll get a chance to just follow up with you in a couple of things.

MB     I'm afraid I'm going to be away for most of September. I was pleased to have this chance to talk to you.

POM     Well maybe I should be here in October.

MB     That's fine.

POM     I'll be back anyway. The two things are, they go back again to the commission. What shouldn't have been done that was done? And what was not done or addressed that should have been addressed?

MB     I can't think of sins of commission really, in all senses of the word, except the fact that I think the structure of the way the Amnesty Committee was structured both in terms of its accountability to the commission and in terms of the way it conducted it's hearings, I don't think really contributed to the goal of the commission, if at all.

POM     Do you think that's because the amnesty hearings turned into mini trials?

MB     I think that even if we had had to have lawyers for the justice and protection of the applicants, I think that the lawyers should have been told you get half a day in which to state your client's case and the victims' families' lawyers get half a day in which to raise their questions and that's it. I don't think we should have gone into this business of constant adjournments to get more documents and turning it into a trial. That's a very non-legal view I expect, but anyway.

POM     What was not addressed that should have been addressed? Would KZN fall under this umbrella?

MB     Yes, there were a lot of places we didn't reach. The fact that we didn't succeed in winning the IFP's participation in the process.

POM     So in an odd way might it be true to say, or at least to posit, that the TRC didn't have a chance to investigate the gross violations of human rights in the province that may have experienced the most gross violations of human rights?

MB     I think that's probably true. It's certainly true that our statement taking there was fraught with difficulties and whether they were caused by the leadership of the IFP's view or whether they were caused by ongoing violence which made it difficult for people to feel free in testifying, both I would say.

POM     As I said to you, and this is my last question, I'm just looking for a comment from you. I've been doing a lot of work on Boipatong.

MB     Are you glad you are?

POM     I'm stunned by some of things I'm finding. I have an investigator saying to me, and researcher saying to me, "There was no investigation ever carried out." I have writers of the reports saying, "Yes, I took information from here and there and I put it in but I footnoted it in a way but when the final report came out all the footnotes had disappeared and it was presented as fact."  Was there investigation? "No there wasn't. When I look at the findings and I look at the research that I did I was astounded. I saw no relationship between any of the work we had done, the limited amount of work we had done, and the very hard and final conclusions of the commission."

     That disturbs me a lot because it raises the question, and I will continue to pursue it, that if it is shown that what to me was, as I think I indicated to you, one of the events that was a turning point at least in the negotiations and one of the largest, if not the largest, massacres in the nineties, if it is shown that the investigation here was flimsy, that the conclusions were really made on the basis of no substantial investigation or evidence, then it raises questions about the way in which other investigations were carried out, it puts a stain on the way in which the commission went about the pursuit of truth, do you think? Or do you say well, that's just one isolated incident, but then it raises the question how many isolated incidents may there be if you start going through the others?

MB     Yes, I would not make the excuse that it would be an isolated incident. I think if it is shown that we made a finding without proper attention to all the evidence that lay before us, then I think we made a serious mistake. And of course any one serious mistake can raise questions about all the others.

POM     The question even becomes larger in the sense that it wasn't a question of, "We came to the conclusion on the basis of evidence", it is that there was no evidence. There were allegations that had been made but never investigated, just taken as fact.

MB     This is where my comment would have to be if that is so, because I would really need to be shown that that was so and I would need to go back and look exactly. I think I've said before that the findings were made usually by small teams of commissioners who had worked in that area, who belonged in that area, who exercised their minds on what was placed before them. Researchers and investigators certainly all along found it frustrating that not everything that they had written appeared in the final report but every researcher likes to write 400 pages about each incident that he or she investigated. Somebody has to decide in the end what gets left out. There are a whole lot of different background reasons, but there is not, I think, an excuse for making a finding that is based on either no evidence or wrong, clearly wrong, or conflicting evidence. If we did that then we made a mistake, a very serious mistake. I would hate to think that everything that we did would be tarnished by that but it will certainly raise questions that we would have defend other findings again. That was one of the frustrations of the huge haste with which we were doing everything.

POM     This raises, and this is my last question, and because it goes back to the root of some of the things you have been saying, can one criticise the TRC in many respects and yet not be accused of being a racist? Or if you're a white person are you ultimately doing it because subconsciously you harbour racist feelings anyway?

MB     If you criticise the TRC?

POM     Yes.

MB     It's very hard for me to say that. I don't know. I would say not but I think partly because there's so much criticism of the TRC that comes from black people.  I don't think that that would be the only grounds on which one would be criticising the TRC. I don't think it's so much racism. I think the report and the processes are criticised by all sides.

POM     I will leave things like that at the moment. Thank you again very much for your time through all these years and bearing with all my weird questions.

MB     Good luck with all the next steps in the project.

POM     I'm going to continue on with Boipatong anyway and I will let you know what I find and I will be in touch later and I hope the next time we can just see each other socially rather than always just rushing an interview.

MB     OK, thanks very much.

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.