This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
09 Sep 2000: Luthuli, Albertina
POM. How are you, Dr Luthuli, it's nice to talk to you?
AL. I'm all right. How are you?
POM. I'm fine too.
AL. Just a bit tired.
POM. Sure, at the end of a long day. Were you working at your practice today?
POM. Are you still in parliament?
AL. No I'm not in parliament this second term. I'm back in my professional work.
POM. Well was just the combination of the two too much?
AL. Really, much, much too much.
POM. So what of the four years you spent in parliament, how would you sum it up? Was it a worthwhile experience, a frustrating experience? How do you come away from it feeling?
AL. Can you say that again? I can't hear.
POM. After four years in parliament or since being there since 1994, five years, how do you come away from parliament feeling? Was it a worthwhile experience, a frustrating experience, something you enjoyed, something where you saw progress occur?
AL. Well I think it's got to be said that it's a worthwhile experience. I think the first five years in parliament in this country were very important for SA in that that's when all the groundwork was being laid down for the democracy. Not easy by any means trying to bring together to move in one direction different parties with different ideological backgrounds, very different. One thing I learnt from parliament is that we come from very different backgrounds politically.
POM. Just explain that a little.
AL. You had the NP there, you know their background. You had there the ANC totally from a different background altogether politically. Then you had the IFP, also difficult to define just what their ideology or political convictions were like, but there all the same and they are the ruling party in this province. And then the DP. Honestly, can you have a more interesting parliament than that? Interesting but difficult so of course we used to change Premiers, three times was it?
POM. Yes, you had Ben Ngubane once.
AL. We first had Frank Mdlalose.
POM. You had Frank Mdlalose who was first.
AL. Did Ngubane come twice?
POM. I think he came back and forth. He became Minister of Technology, that's what he became twice. He came twice as Minister of Arts & Culture at the national level.
AL. Oh yes, that's correct, yes. He was once Premier. Mdlalose, Ngubane and then we had Mtshali. If you take all those characters they are very different, very different, but it is so interesting how things have been.
POM. When you say that you can't put your finger on the ideological background of the IFP, could you explain that a little?
AL. I don't know what that party believes in in terms of ideology. I think to a large extent they are a traditionalist party. That is really their background. Before 1994, before they declared themselves a political party they declared themselves a political party around the advent of the democracy because they now had to be a political party.
POM. Before that they were a cultural organisation.
AL. That's right, but prior to that all those many years they were a cultural party, traditional party, so I don't think that even up to now they have moved away from that. I haven't had any definition of what their political beliefs or ideological beliefs are.
POM. Many people believe or have said to me that the source of their ideology is Chief Buthelezi, that before any decision is finally made it is referred back to him and his word is final and that you can get them saying one thing in parliament and then when they check things out with Ulundi
AL. He is the founding member of the party and he makes no bones about reminding them of that.
POM. Is that a polite way of saying he gets his way all the time?
AL. I think he does it properly but he reminds them that he is the founding member of the party and every now and again he reminds everybody that that is the case. I don't think there is any doubt about that.
POM. I was running through our last interview which was in 1996, I can't believe it's been that long, I've missed you on two or three occasions, but I was just noting some of the things that you had said and you might have just a short comment on them four years later. You had said that the violence in Natal had more or less abated. Do you think you can say now, or that we all can say now, fairly conclusively that political violence in Natal is a thing of the past or is it still there under the surface?
AL. I still say that it has dissipated. This province was bad at one time, people were dying here, we all lived in fear. I endorse what I said last time to you, I'd forgotten that's what I said. Certainly there is a great lowering of temperature in the province. Violence, I think it will still be there for a while to come particularly when you approach elections but honestly it's nothing like it was. Most of the people now they really have tasted peace and they want to live that way. People who were the warlords behind the violence, a lot of them either have died themselves together with those they killed. You know, they followed and died or they are in prison awaiting trial or convicted. Then there's this peace initiative between the politicians, the IFP and ANC.
POM. It's paying off?
AL. Yes, it's paying off. It's not perfect but I think it's the best thing that was put together in this province. It's made a lot of difference. If one looks around it's not just here in SA, I think in other states, countries, as well tempers run high when it's election time. It's not just in SA.
POM. Sure. If you look at India there are more people killed there during elections than sometimes the population of a small country.
AL. I think we've done pretty well.
POM. Now the last time I was asking you about your practice and the patients you were seeing and you were saying there's a very high or an unacceptably high rate of diseases that are preventable; TB is very common. Then I brought up the question of AIDS and you said, "Well once sees more and more people who are HIV positive." Since 1996 that's moved from being a problem to being an epidemic or a pandemic. You see the statistics now ranging up to 30% perhaps of HIV positive, the rate among young women 15 24, the number of AIDS orphans, life expectancy is being reduced back into their fifties. In fact it was Dr Makgoba who told me two days ago that this is the only country in the world and the only country in the history of the human species where the biological trend has reduced itself or reversed itself and by that he meant that in every species the female outlives the male and in SA that has now reversed itself where the life span of the male is now longer than the life span of the female on a projected basis. Then you have the President's statements that are treated with more derision in the rest of the world than with credibility. What's happening?
AL. Yes, you remind me that I was aware of it in 1996 that we're seeing more and more. Then I was caught up in parliament and left private practice but my daughter was running our practice so I was in touch with what was going on and if I had the time I still practised. But the graph has gone up, it's just shot up. It hasn't been a gradual process but we're really in there, caught up in a horrific disaster. The pandemic is serious. Us, who are practising doctors on the ground, I think we see more than people like Dr Makgoba who is in the MRC in Cape Town and is doing research and getting figures. You can talk about the figures, 30%, 25%, 20%, really what matters is that this HIV/AIDS thing is very serious. It's cutting across. You see the AIDS groups that is really going down very, very rapidly and seriously is the 15 24, 25, 30 so those are the people that should be living. The normal circumstances when your child reaches age five you know that the worst is over and when they reach the teens once they reach age five you expect them to live, the worst is over really when they were vulnerable to disease, especially amongst the poorer people. But after five things get better, you expect the child to live. Teenagers, you don't expect teenagers to die, so this is a shocking pandemic.
POM. The President is not making things better.
AL. It's made worse by the fact that there are no clear cut guidelines coming from those above, what to do, how it should be handled in a manner that really deals with it realistically. We do know that certain things can be done, I know that and other doctors who interest themselves in reading and research, we are aware that if perhaps the powers that be put their heads together and decided that some kind of guidelines should come out it might just be a little bit better. But things are not, nothing is coming out clearly as to what to do.
POM. Is there any reason in the world that you can think of why anti-retroviral drugs should not be given to pregnant women since the evidence is overwhelming?
AL. I can't say why it's not but it's true that this whole thing, when it comes to drugs, whether it's for pregnant mothers or for those who are pre-AIDS and AIDS, it's expensive, that is true. Now of course there is an ongoing thing about pharmaceutical companies making them available free or making them available cheap but I think all said and done there just isn't consensus, there just isn't agreement on what should happen. I don't know why but that is the position. So the matter remains clouded.
POM. Does it ever strike you as ironic that the freedom for which so many people struggled over decades and for which the ANC spent 60, 80 years of its existence trying to achieve, that an ANC government may preside over the deaths of more people from HIV/AIDS
AL. Than the struggle itself.
POM. - than ever died during apartheid because it's hesitant, doesn't give guidelines, won't take tough decisions, won't face the problem?
AL. It's very sad really but quite honestly, Padraig, I must say that we are confused. It's difficult to know what is going on. You see some of these things, certainly people like us who are medical doctors and have been practising medicine all our lives, we believe that something can be done. We believe that a programme can be put together which can save life, which can prolong life. I don't care if the arguments, scientific arguments, carry on. After all that is how it is, that's natural and that's to be expected. We still argue in medical science about things that were discovered 40,50, 100 years ago, it doesn't matter but it is important to do something about what is going on and some things can be done but there is no clear cut programme of guidelines, so people are in the dark.
POM. Why is that political will not there at the top, that's what I'm asking?
AL. I have no idea. I haven't got the slightest idea. We all don't know, we all speculate and we just don't know why. We don't know why there is so much confusion around the matter. To a practising doctor there shouldn't be, there should not be any confusion. Things can be made quite clear cut and some programme can be put there which can stop the deaths, prolong life, let people live healthily until the very last moments. But it's not happening and therefore young people are just dying because they get the virus and they go on living in the same way as before, no change in their life and they die therefore. Instead of living a possible 20 years they die within a year or two. It's very sad.
POM. Are you having any more success when people come to you or patients come to you and they have the symptoms and you know, have you any more success now in getting them to go and get tested or is their attitude still the same that I don't want to get tested?
AL. I think there is more acceptance that there is a disease. The denial is really much less.
POM. It is.
AL. Because people see people dying now. Almost every family is affected. If it's not a member of the family it's a friend, a relative, everybody sees somebody that they know dying. Every weekend the people are buried and the graveyards are full, new ones are started and I think soon what we've been saying is that the black people don't really subscribe to cremation but very soon that's going to be the only way to go. We are going to soon have to talk cremation. Nobody dares to do that yet because black people don't buy it but I am sure that some of us are already saying it to people we meet in our circles. But there is now a greater acceptance of the existence of HIV, of the virus itself, because they can see that what they were told before and they denied is true. So that is why it would be so much easier now to come up with a clear cut, well thought out programme. You see people, I believe myself, would go for tests if there was something in it, if there was something I mean who wants to go for a test if you're just going to be a statistic? There is no incentive, there is no point, they don't see the point in being tested because they say, oh well, I will just get to know and then I will be depressed and nothing will happen and I will just sit there and wait to die. The denial, I know that a lot of people still say that we are in a period of denial, I deny that, I think it's not true. People have come to realise that this thing is there but they don't know what to do. We're getting more people willing to be tested but they don't see the point of being tested because after you know that you are HIV positive then what? Nothing.
POM. I want to go back, Dr Luthuli, to when you were young and when your father was banished to his home village in Groutville. What age were you then?
AL. I think that was when was the Defiance Campaign? 1952.
POM. So did you grow up in - ?
AL. I think it was then around that time, 1950 1952.
POM. What age were you?
AL. I was then 20 years. When he was there I was already a grown up person, I was attending ANC meetings which he was addressing as President of the ANC. So I was following him around wherever he was addressing people in Durban.
POM. What age were you then?
AL. I was 30 years.
POM. You're not that old.
AL. In March I will be 70 years old, I'm nearly 70 now.
POM. Oh my God! You should start acting like it.
AL. I will next year.
POM. So where did you live before that, before Groutville?
AL. Groutville is my home, that's where I was born, that's home, Groutville. That's where he in fact lived as a boy, that's my ancestral home. It's not far from where I'm living now, you know that? You know you came to Ballito and Groutville is just 15 20 minutes drive from Ballito.
POM. So when you were growing up you used to live in Groutville?
AL. I grew up in Groutville until I was 16, no, well until I left after Standard 6, that was I think I left Groutville 1946 for Adams College and then St Francis College, the high school. But I left Groutville 1946 I think.
POM. When he was banned there was he subject to only being able to see one person a day and no more than one person at a time?
AL. Yes, that was the position. He could only see one person at a time who was not a member of the family.
POM. Who was not a member of the family?
AL. That's right. I mean he could be with the family, his immediate family because that wouldn't be regarded as a meeting. If he met anyone who was not a member of the family he couldn't be with more than one person at a time and he couldn't be with a person, even if it's one person, who was also banned. Then of course he was circumscribed.
POM. That means that he, when you say he was circumscribed?
AL. In terms of movement.
POM. Oh, he could only move around in the area.
POM. He couldn't move outside of the area.
AL. He could only move to Stanger, his magisterial district town. Then of course the worst, something which also he felt very badly and I think the world is not quite aware of that, is that he could not go to church.
POM. Couldn't go to church?
AL. He couldn't go to church and that hurt him badly because he was extremely religious. He really believed in his God. He lived almost like God himself my father, he was honestly extremely good.
POM. Well the first thing he did was to send you to a Catholic school.
AL. And when he was depressed or sad that really was just too much for him.
POM. Was the church that he went to outside the magisterial area?
AL. No, the church is a community church, it's right there, but because he was going to meet people there.
POM. Oh, OK, yes.
AL. And they felt that he could influence those people. He was also Chief Deacon in all that, he preached in church and he went around the surrounding churches also as a preacher. He was extremely Christian and a deep believer. It was just in him so that really hurt him very much. You know what he used to do on Sundays? He used to get up and then put on his Sunday suit and tie and everything, wash and be ready as if he was going to go to church like he used to. And then he would sit in the lounge and read the Bible and prepare the text, everything, and then of course the rest of us would be able to go to church. On returning from church in the evening we had to have sort of like a family church service over which he would yes. But that was one of the cruellest things that the apartheid government did to a man who was so religious.
POM. Was he in the Anglican church?
AL. American Board Mission. His politics were very much driven also by he argued with the government when they banned him going to church just like he argued when they said he can't be Chief and at the same time be a politician and at the same time he said that you can't say you're a Christian and say that there's a clash between being a Christian and being a politician. All these things, being a Chief, being a Christian and being a politician, there's no competition, they all work towards the same end. There is nothing in that one contradicts the other. You are trying to improve the lives of human beings, humanity, and all three should be working towards for me they work for the same purpose so there is no contradiction. That's why he told the government that he sees nothing wrong with him continuing being Chief and also being President of the ANC.
POM. Did he have a problem of any sorts when the ANC began or turned to the armed struggle and when an alliance was formed with the South African Communist Party?
AL. No. Let's take the alliance with the SACP. He wasn't a communist himself but the policy of the ANC was to associate with anybody who had the same end and that was to eliminate apartheid discrimination and the oppression of the black people. That was the common end. Now they felt that the ideological side of things was irrelevant at that time. The main thing was that here were human beings who were put to work together with the same purpose and with all the determination for that purpose to be achieved. So a communist and whoever you were at that time really, it really didn't matter. He was one man who believed that you could be a communist and be a good man and therefore there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. That he himself was not a communist you had to accept also if you were a communist. If you were a good man then that's what mattered.
. On the matter of the armed struggle, that's the kind of thing that requires a lot of study. You see my father believed that violence would kill a lot of people if it was just haphazard, especially the black people. Many times the government used to create a situation where it was saying to the black people they need to respond violently. He would talk about that and say that in those situations people must be held back because what was happening was that the government wanted in fact to mow them down because they were helpless, they were not ready, they had nothing to defend themselves. So that was the duty of the leadership, for instance, to hold people back knowing very well that they were not ready for the gun, they were going to be shot down and mowed down. Now as time went the ANC then adopted the non-violent strategy but as time went every time the leadership, him being leader, was asking the SA government to sit down and talk and they were not replying. I think they were putting the letters in the dustbin.
POM. That's where the Durban Declaration went?
AL. Yes! That's what successive party leaders used to say happened to my father's letters. So it was obvious in building up and the warnings were there that if you go on like this the people are going to lose patience and there will be an outburst. Clearly anybody who was a leader could see that the leaders of the day were so intransigent that violence was almost inevitable. To me, who lived with my father, it was clear that he recognised this and from time to time you would find that he would utter statements like, "Well, if the provocation goes beyond a certain point where a man is not given a chance and there is no alternative to reacting in a violent manner then even God accepts that because you've got to defend your dignity." Even God, that text in the Bible, which says that you have to defend your dignity, you cannot allow the dignity to be trampled on beyond a certain point and there is text in the Bible which actually say that you've got to take up arms and fight. So I think that whilst he believed in non-violence he accepted that the time will come for violence because the rulers of the day were intransigent. When that time did come I think he just accepted it.
POM. When you were in London did you practice as a doctor?
AL. Yes I did, yes.
POM. In a London hospital? I'm trying to get an idea of what life in exile was like.
AL. I was first in private practice in a vocational private practice, a private practice where the principal was a member of the General Medical Council and therefore could train new doctors to be proper practitioners, in Beckenham. Then after a while I got sucked into the National Health System so I did mainly schools and clinics, the public health sector until I left for Zimbabwe when Zimbabwe became newly independent.
AL. Yes. I was invited to go and assist them implement their new order in matters of health.
POM. So you worked for the infamous President Mugabe?
AL. Yes. The first Minister of Health was trained in Durban so he knew me and he invited us. He said, "I think you people are the right people to come and help here now." I will tell you that he was a very good President then.
POM. I'll get back to that, I'm interested in what you have to say about what power does to people. When you were in England were you in Birmingham or were you in London?
AL. First we lived in Croydon and then Beckenham. I was working in Beckenham, Kent. We didn't like London very much.
POM. Now you were married at that time, right?
POM. Were you married before you left the country?
AL. Yes. I was married in 1959 and we left in 1970.
POM. Was your husband active too?
AL. He was active. He was a doctor, he is a doctor. The main reason we left is because he was so active in politics. He spent some time on Robben Island and when he came out life just became impossible. It became impossible because he was always being detained, he was always being picked up. If anything happened he was always being picked up for questioning and we couldn't put our lives together.
POM. How many years did he spend on Robben Island?
AL. He was there 33 months.
POM. So you were left on your own with the children?
POM. Where were you living then?
AL. In Durban.
POM. That must have been difficult with three young children. Was it three, two?
AL. There were four at that time.
POM. Did he go with you to London as well and was he able to practice as well?
AL. We left all together as a family in 1970. My marriage ended in 1978 in Lesotho.
POM. Oh in Lesotho. So you went to Lesotho before you went to Zimbabwe. So you went from London to Lesotho and how long did you spend in Lesotho?
AL. Three years.
POM. Were you practising?
AL. Yes I was practising there as well.
POM. And then you were invited to go to Zimbabwe?
AL. Then I returned to England, no I went to America and lived with my sister. Then I returned to England and then to Zimbabwe. You see England was the base, that is where my political home was so it was always the point of reference, wherever I was I was simply there for a reason, but to go back to England until I returned to SA.
POM. You always knew the day would come, did you, that apartheid would end and that - ?
AL. Oh yes, oh yes. I grew up believing that apartheid was going to go some day. I grew up in that kind of environment where it was very clear and it was without doubt that apartheid will go one day and that this country will be free from bad apartheid.
POM. Were you in England at the time of what they called the eight members, the Gang of Eight were expelled from ANC?
POM. You must have known most of them.
AL. Well my husband was one of those people.
POM. Oh he was! I guess you did know them!
AL. I did know them yes. He sort of expelled himself by association.
POM. What was his name?
AL. He wasn't expelled as such but he believed in what - he had been going along with those people at meetings and he believe in what was going on and what they were saying and therefore even though he was not expelled, he remained associated but wasn't expelled.
POM. I'm a genius for asking the right question.
AL. Well you've been doing some research.
POM. His name was? Is that Nomsa's name? Ngakane?
POM. That's the last name?
AL. No that's the first name.
POM. And the last name was?
AL. Ngakane. That's my married name.
POM. That's what Nomsa's called. So then you would have known the Makewanes as well?
AL. No I didn't know them, not me. I left Lesotho before they came to Lesotho.
POM. They were part of the people who were expelled weren't they?
AL. You know I'm not sure of that. I really don't know, I'm not sure of that. They got to Lesotho after I had already gone so I don't know much about the Makewanes.
POM. All I know is that they were trying to set up an ANC called the Luthuli ANC to distinguish it from the Tambo ANC.
POM. It's not true?
AL. I've never heard of that.
POM. I was just reading that today in a book. If you hold on one second I'll get it for you right now if you're interested. If you're not I'll pass it by.
AL. What book is that? I've never heard of that before.
POM. Just hold on a second and I'll get it. This is a book called A View from Moscow by a man named Shubin, Vladimir Shubin. He used to be the ANC's contact person in Moscow.
AL. He must be doing his own thing. I think there's nothing in what he's saying. I've never heard of him anyway but it's certainly not true what he's saying. I've never heard of him. Is it published in this country?
POM. Yes, in fact I'll send you on copy.
AL. Look I suppose people are free to write just anything that they dream up. The ANC was a very open and large organisation and perhaps a point also has been reached where there may be a lot of people who want to put a short history. If it is the way they don't like it and they can use their head and pen and paper, so what stops it? But quite honestly I think that's just a load of rubbish.
POM. Did you know Joe Matthews too?
AL. Yes. You mustn't ask me about people, Padraig, I'm not going to talk. Tell me, where do you take these interviews to?
POM. Where do I take them to?
POM. They go to Judy.
AL. And then what does she do with them?
POM. You should have gotten back, and I'll have them sent on to you, are the transcripts of the last interviews.
AL. But what do you do with them in the end?
POM. In the end they will all go into a book. I have now 18,000 hours of interviews that I've done since 1989 and they will all go into a book.
AL. Are we going to get anything from the book sales? You've taken so much of our time.
POM. It would be such a large book.
AL. It's all for nothing. Come on!
POM. It's going to be a very large book so I have to cut it down into two bits.
AL. I mean these interviews are free, you're getting these free interviews for what purpose?
POM. Because I want to tell the whole story of what went on, the history of the ANC, what went on in the break up of apartheid, what went on during the negotiations.
AL. How many people do you interview?
POM. I interview over 100 people every year, the same 100 people.
AL. And when is the book going to come out because we may die before we see the book?
POM. I may be dead before I write it.
AL. Really, all this material, what are you going to do with it?
POM. I'm going to do two things. One is that I owe my publisher a 700-page book that should be out by now but isn't. Then I'm going to take all the rest, since the volume of material is so big, and a university press either Oxford University Press or Harvard University Press has agreed, or a University Press here which has also expressed interest, will bring out two volumes a year for five years where I will take all the interviews that I've done with everybody, and I've interviewed most of the same people for ten or eleven years, so I know what they thought in 1989 and I know what they thought in 1990 and how their minds changed.
AL. What's happening is unusual you know.
POM. Then I'll give all the tapes of all the material
AL. I mean it's very unusual. Here you are, you're coming every year almost.
POM. It will be 15 years of my life.
AL. And when is the book going to come out?
POM. Well my mother is asking me that too, she wants to be alive too when it comes out so I had better hurry up since she's 86.
AL. Even all of us are reaching the age now where anything could happen any time. That's why I'm asking you. But look, I really can't tell you anything about some of these people you are asking about.
POM. That's OK, then we just won't talk about them.
AL. I think you should interview them and then they can talk about themselves like I talk about myself.
POM. Oh I do. Joe Matthews I've got every year since I think 1991 and I have hundreds of pages.
AL. From Joe?
POM. From Joe. He's a very interesting man and I used to interview Joe Slovo before he died and Chris Hani. In fact the list of people, I think half the warlords in KZN, Thomas Shabalala, Harry Gwala, all of those people I used to go and interview.
AL. Have you interviewed Shabalala recently now since there is no longer all that much war in the province? Have you talked to him?
POM. Not since because I can't find him now.
AL. Well he's gone back to parliament.
POM. Has he?
POM. Oh I didn't know that. Well then I thought he was thrown out of the IFP.
AL. And then he got back again.
POM. And he's back in parliament. Nkabinde was another man that I interviewed right up until the week before he died. Nkabinde in Richmond. So the list of people I've got who met a bad end, Themba Khoza is another person.
AL. Oh yes, and he also demised recently.
POM. Yes. Johan Heyns who was the man who was in charge of the Dutch Reform Church, he got shot too. In fact the list of people who are dying
AL. What about PW Botha?
POM. PW, I wrote to him and wrote to him and wrote to him.
AL. Surely that's a man who should say a lot of things that happened in this country. Then the longest reigning Foreign Minister in the world throughout the apartheid era and yet he has never told us anything.
POM. PW or Pik?
POM. Oh I've interviewed Pik.
AL. He hasn't told us anything.
POM. I've interviewed him about eight or nine times.
AL. Nine times.
POM. And he talks.
AL. Does he give an insight into what was going on?
POM. Oh, he will tell you that he was the first minister ever against apartheid. When he told PW Botha that a black man could be president of the country, how he
AL. We all know that he said that but he says it so repeatedly that it's clear that he decided that that is what he was going to say and just speak it out every time. But he has never told us, the man was in apartheid, was the apartheid Foreign Minister for all those years, he never resigned, he never condemned the party and said I am leaving you because they don't hear what I am saying.
POM. Now he's a member of your party.
AL. We must believe that he was always telling them the good things to come.
POM. The next thing is they're making him an Ambassador of some place.
AL. He has not told us anything. He hasn't told us all the things that he ought to be telling us, what he did and how he ordered this and all the things that he knows. He wants to go six foot down with them, it's amazing.
POM. Just to go back to London. Was most of outside of your working life made up with colleagues from the ANC who were also in exile?
AL. In part.
POM. Was that a large part of your life?
AL. I was a practising doctor most of the time.
POM. In ANC circles, did ANC people socialise among themselves or exiles socialise among themselves?
AL. You know London is that kind of place. There is racism in England, blacks are blacks and that kind of thing. If you are an outsider you are a foreigner so you will socialise with your own kind, you will seek them out wherever they are otherwise you life alone. To a large extent that's how life is like there and they've got their racism which is part and parcel of life there and it's not put in books, it's not in statutes but it's there. The natural thing is that as South Africans we simply associated with other South Africans.
POM. What would everybody talk about? Was the conversation about what was happening at home and looking for news from home?
AL. That's about it, yes.
POM. It's like most exiled people. The Irish live in London, I've worked among them and all they would talk about was Ireland.
AL. Yes you live your own life in England but you are living your South African life and you are looking forward to going home some day.
POM. Did you like London? Now that you talk about it as it still is, a very racist city. The way they treat Pakistanis is awful.
AL. I really didn't care much for London. It wasn't the best time of my life. We were exiled, it wasn't home. We always sat looking to going back home. It never became home.
POM. So when you went to Lesotho you felt nearer home? You were right beside it.
AL. Yes, you felt that if I go to Africa I will be closer to home than when I'm in London.
POM. So three years in Lesotho and there you were working as a practising doctor again. You had a private practice, the children were going to school?
AL. No I didn't have a private practice, I was working for the government.
POM. OK, and then on to Zimbabwe. Now what was that like? Were you living in Harare?
AL. I was in the eastern side of Harare in Marondella. Also working for the government, as I said.
POM. What was that like?
AL. That was nearer home, it was closer to home, it was also during a time when there were a lot of us who were there now really getting the feeling that we were just about to go back to SA.
POM. Because you saw independence in Zimbabwe you said.
AL. Once Zimbabwe was independent, the fact of it is that things began to look like we are going to return to SA and by 1987, 1988 it was clear that we are going to come back home. It was quite different from London, there were many South Africans, we were a large community. The Zimbabweans understood us, they were with us in our struggle. You felt protected and even the security forces were concerned about keeping us safe and all that kind of thing. We were more at home than you could ever be in London, you couldn't compare that to London.
POM. In those days did Mugabe's independence promise a lot for the people? Did the people have great expectations?
AL. Yes, but he was doing well for his people. It wasn't just promises. He was doing very well, he was good for Zimbabwe.
POM. What do you think has gone wrong or has anything gone wrong? Do people in the west just see him the wrong way because of their own backgrounds?
AL. I don't think that people in that kind of power, with all that power, should stay too long. There is something to be said for heads of state doing no more than two terms.
POM. That's where Mandela set a really good example. He just did one.
AL. There is everything to be said for it no matter which way you look at it, they run out of ideas, the power is too much, it gets into their heads and then they are no longer innovative. It's hard for them to come up with new ideas so there is no reason to stay longer than two terms really.
POM. Your Mum stayed on here?
AL. I need to go to sleep now, Padraig. I am feeling tired.
POM. OK. Give me another five minutes.
AL. It will have to be five now, I'm really tired.
POM. OK. Your Mum stayed on in Groutville until you came home?
POM. You saw her before she died?
AL. Yes. That was fortunate. There was a time when it looked as if we might not see her but really mercifully it just went on all right. We came back and we were with her some years before she left us.
POM. Are you hopeful about the future of SA even with AIDS and the problems it faces, well particularly with AIDS ravishing, literally ravishing the country?
AL. It doesn't look good at the moment, it doesn't, but human beings always survive. Humans, as human beings we are wonderful, we are strong. You can never wipe out human beings completely so I think it's a bad time we are going through, there's no doubt about that, but if you look at what's happened in a country like Uganda you will see that this thing reaches its peak. You see when people start to die somehow human beings pull back and begin to think because the survival instinct is so strong. I believe that, and I believe that that's what's going to happen here. It won't just go on that people will be dying and nobody does anything about it. Then you will soon find also those that survive and are HIV negative are going to reproduce, they are going to produce many babies. They won't produce two or three but I think government will have to encourage those who are HIV negative to go for a minimum of five or something like that. Some plan will have to be made.
POM. I know you went to a Catholic school. In Ireland if you don't have five babies you're not a real person.
AL. Well you see the modern girls here are going for two or three. I am sure that's going to have to change. I think it's going to have to change.
POM. Do you think, and maybe this is different in KZN from the rest the country, that race relations have gotten worse or better since you've been back or that they've got better and then are slipping back to getting worse again?
AL. Where? In KZN?
POM. Yes. Or in the country. I suppose all you can talk about is KZN.
AL. What did you say?
POM. After Mandela's election where there was all this euphoria about a rainbow nation. Last week there was this conference here that I attended on racism and
AL. Oh I think that's natural. I think there had to be a period of euphoria coming from where we were. Things had sunk to the lowest level. Life was bad, things were bad so there had to be that upbeat and great expectations, euphoria and all that but then eventually really to begin to sink in at all levels, because things don't go away. Things don't just disappear and go away, you've got to deal with them. I think that now what's happening is that the country is beginning to grapple with the realities that were there all the time, even in 1994, even during all that period of euphoria these things were there but they didn't matter then.
POM. Everybody needed a holiday from them.
AL. That's right. It didn't matter then but now that phase is getting over with and that's natural. So now because they were there they never disappeared they will surface and then they've got to be dealt with. So I don't think there is anything surprising about what's happening. It couldn't just go away, it couldn't just disappear. The racism that was there, surely it was there because it is, so where would it go to? You have to deal with it somehow. Now we're beginning to grapple with those issues and I think it's a good thing.
POM. Do you experience it in your work?
AL. Racism is all over in this country. We have had it all our lives, it's all over, even before the Boers came to power, under the English, successive English governments there was racism. It's only the ANC that wants to turn things upside down and say it should all stop. So, OK, let us try. There has always been racism here since the white people came, they were racists and they brought their racism here. It was not there before but once they came here there has always been racism. It's been gradually getting worse as there were more and more people and all that kind of thing but the ANC is trying something new, it's an experiment. I think we've all got to wait and see what's going to happen but surely some aspects of it, some racism has got to go, it's unacceptable.
POM. Just two last questions, one is an easy one, both easy actually. I've been trying to locate Nomsa and am unable to track her down. You wouldn't have a telephone number for her would you?
AL. I don't have her telephone number now because she hasn't got a cell, she doesn't have a cell phone working at the moment. Maybe you can track her down through her twin sister. But does she want to be tracked down by you?
POM. Oh sure, yes.
AL. What makes you so sure?
POM. She owes me to type up, to transcribe 20 tapes.
AL. I will ask her.
POM. She gets to transcribe all the family tapes. We made a bargain years ago.
AL. What does she get out of that?
POM. What does she get? Oh she'll get paid.
AL. She gets paid.
POM. I've got it right in front of me, I did it in 1992, it's called Shadrack and Nomsa.
AL. OK, her twin sister there in Johannesburg
POM. Her sister's name is?
AL. Lungila. 8712277. I need to know, you know so much about some of us now, I need to know a little more about you too Padraig, it's fair.
POM. Sure, fire away. Do you want to ask me questions or write you a long letter?
AL. What do you do?
POM. I'm Irish.
AL. You're Irish but you're in America.
POM. Yes. I was born in Ireland. There are four of us. My Dad died when I was about five so my mother had to raise four children under five years of age. I was educated in Ireland, in Dublin, and then I got a Fullbright Scholarship to go to the United States to do a doctorate in Economics. When I was there I switched my field of study to Conflict Resolution and I did an awful lot of work in Northern Ireland. I've been involved in Northern Ireland for years.
AL. Are you involved in resolving the present conflict?
AL. From which side?
POM. From just getting people to stop killing each other. I've dealt with all sides and I brought them all here in 1997 from the IRA to the Loyalist Protestant side.
AL. You were instrumental in them coming to SA?
POM. That's right, and we went to Arniston for three days and President Mandela came down. There were Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer who I had taken to Ireland before that and they went to Mandela and said they thought that SA could be of help and it was a turning point in the negotiations in Northern Ireland. Then I worked on sending teams when things broke down, sending teams of people including Mac Maharaj back over there again to talk to the IRA and to get the full question of decommissioning under control. That culminated with Cyril getting appointed to be one of the commissioners.
AL. What do you think of Mo Mowlam stepping down?
POM. At the time Mo was there she was the best person in the world for the job.
AL. But now she's stepped down so what?
POM. She didn't step down, she was kicked out. Tony Blair, you know, said, "Mo, you did a good job but politics calls for you to go now." She was honest, open, accessible and entirely different because what you usually get are these stiff necked Englishmen who know nothing about the country they go into, that's something which has never changed, who try to bring their
AL. What did she have? Is she Irish or what? Mo Mowlam. It's an unusual surname that.
POM. She has Irish blood in her. She was born in England but she was very successful, she was on the right stepping stone to the next step and will be always fondly remembered by everybody as being accessible and open and taking chances.
AL. Do you think it will hold now?
POM. I don't know. I wish I could answer that question. I must tell you that when Cyril went over to do the first when he was being introduced, with him and Ahtisaari the Finn President, I went over with him at that time. I was kind of doing the media work to say that he wasn't pro-IRA, that he was neutral, that he was honest and all these people had met him and David Trimble had met him two or three times, so everybody knew him, he was a known commodity by the time he arrived which was very important because everybody trusted him.
AL. He's a good fellow that, he is very good.
POM. I must say he's my favourite among all South Africans.
AL. Ramaphosa he's a good thinker.
POM. My next favourite person after that is Mac Maharaj.
AL. I don't know much of Maharaj but I certainly admire Cyril very much. He is a cool thinker. Tell me, do you have any stuff that's easy to read on conflict and its resolution, conflict resolution? Do you have any material that is easy to read on that subject?
POM. I have a couple of books that I did in Ireland. I will send you a book that I did in 1980 and you may recall, even though you would have been in Lesotho or just going to Zimbabwe then.
AL. No I was in England then.
POM. You remember Bobby Sands?
AL. Yes I do.
POM. Well I did a book about Bobby Sands.
AL. That's the man who was in prison?
POM. Hunger strike, he went on hunger strike.
AL. He went on a long hunger strike.
POM. He died and ten more young men died.
AL. I remember that.
POM. Ten of them died. So I did a book on them. I researched it and got in touch with all the families and went back and talked to them.
AL. That was Margaret Thatcher saying they can die if they want.
POM. That's right.
AL. To die is their business.
POM. He was an elected member of parliament if you remember because he got elected to parliament and he was the first British MP who was allowed to die by a British Prime Minister.
AL. I remember, that was hard.
POM. Ah she was a tough woman.
AL. That was very hard.
POM. She was on their hit list in 1983 when they were having the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton. They nearly got her that time. They sent her a message afterwards and the message said, "Mrs Thatcher, you always have to be lucky. We only have to be lucky once."
AL. What do you think of her? I mean those are the kind of people you should interview, not us.
POM. No, people like you are far more interesting.
AL. You should go into the mind of a person like Mrs Margaret Thatcher, what drove her and why she did the things that she did.
POM. She would then say, "Show this man the door."
AL. That woman was so hard, I don't think I've seen a politician like that. She was terrible. During the height of hatred for the ANC in this country by the apartheid government and rejection and condemnation, Mrs Thatcher, as you know she wouldn't meet Tambo, she met Buthelezi and everybody else because they were promoting Buthelezi, they wanted him to become the first black President, I think there is no secret about that. When Mrs Thatcher really made me disgusted with her, there were many things she did, but this one I will never, never forget because it was such a lie and it was the meanest thing that a person of her stature could do, she told an English audience in one of the interviews which was done by this top journalist, it was a Sunday I don't think it was Panorama, it was a Sunday midday interview, and this paper was really on her about SA and then this man suggested that ANC is the most popular party in the Republic of SA, it's got the greatest following and therefore why doesn't she meet the leader of the ANC who is in exile, that was OR. And Mrs Thatcher had the audacity to actually say that is simply not true, recently a poll was done, she started lecturing to this man, she said a poll was done in SA, you know these Markinor polls, something like that, was done in SA where it was shown that the black man with the greatest support is the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party which is led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. This was a Markinor poll or something like that. Now this was in the middle of - it could have been 1985/86, when the ANC was six foot underground, you could not admit to anyone that you are aligned to the ANC. You couldn't say you were a member of the ANC. You didn't know that organisation.
POM. That's the time to carry out a poll.
AL. Who would have admitted to anybody on the street, answering them and saying who they support, Mangosuthu or OR Tambo, the ANC or Inkatha Freedom Party. She had the cheek to actually say this on an interview on British TV, a woman who is supposed to know democracy and support the conditions where you can conduct a credible poll. And I said this is the end of the story, I don't respect this woman any more because she thinks the world is foolish, she's a fool herself.
POM. Dame Thatcher now.
AL. That was too much for me. I really can't forget that. I just felt so bad. I was watching the programme and I felt so bad, I said this Britain is really something else.
POM. You were just talking about Oliver Tambo there, just a question struck me, speculation. If he had been healthy, in good health and had come back to SA or come back to SA from Stockholm, do you think Mr Mandela would have insisted that he stay on as President of the ANC and that Oliver Tambo would have become the first President of SA?
AL. I don't know, it's difficult to say.
POM. Do you think their friendship was such that - ?
AL. I don't know, but I think that there was general agreement that Mandela was going to be the President and I think if you look at things Tambo as President had actually allowed the name of Mandela to be promoted. I think that's very significant. People don't seem to talk about that, they don't seem to remark about that. He was the President who was free, he didn't promote himself but he allowed during his presidency throughout the name of Mandela to be built to the proportions it was built. That is very significant. There are few people who would do that and I don't think that in the end he would, with Mandela there now whom he had built up all those years, he would have then said that he is going to be President. I can't see that happening.
POM. Everyone who worked for him says
AL. It seems to me just logical that he himself would have asked Mandela to be the President because he had done it, as I say, all throughout his exile life as President.
POM. I'm going to send you on that book. I'll be going back to Boston in fact if you give me your address I can have somebody there put it in the post now, from my staff. Judy has your full address right?
AL. Yes she has it.
POM. Well I'll have it posted on to you this evening, a copy of it.
AL. On conflict.
POM. No, no, this would be on Bobby Sands, on the hunger strikes when ten men died and how they died, how they all got entrapped they died over the colour of a shirt and they died over the issue of whether if the government said - because then in Britain if you were a criminal you had to wear a uniform and they said we're not criminals so we're not wearing uniforms. Then after they wore nothing for years except a blanket and then the government said, "We will buy you a shirt from Marks & Spencers, a range of shirts and you pick the shirt you want", and they said, "No, it's still your shirt, we want our parents and our sisters and our wives to bring in our shirts and it may be the very same shirts from M & S but - "
AL. But then, Padraig, why is it that - in England I learned, and UK, people like that, Bobby Sands and people like that, there is not much said about them, there is not much said, they stood on principles, they died on principles, they were principled, they went into the hunger strike and all that but there is not much said about how heroic they were. All you hear is the great heroes they are pop stars and those kind of people. Why is that?
POM. The day Bobby Sands died all the tabloids in England ran big headlines, "Thank God the Terrorist is Dead, he deserves it."
AL. Yes I can understand the tabloids and the government saying so in the same way that the apartheid government did but these things come from the people.
POM. Because they don't get the news.
AL. It's a free country, it's free, information is supposed to be free and all that and yet you find that the heroic deeds of people like that nothing is said, not much is said about them.
POM. For example, the BBC is split up into five different regional corporations and each one covers only the news in its own area so that people in England will hear nothing about what's going on in Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland.
AL. So we seem to be more of a democracy than the UK and this old democracy, so-called democracy. In a way Gandhi was right when he said that the English can't tell us anything about democracy. What do you think of that? I look at BBC, they still show him saying that. Don't they see that there is some truth in what Gandhi said? Press freedom and all that, there is more freedom here in SA than in the UK, all of the UK. It doesn't matter whether it's England, Wales, Ireland or whatever, Scotland, we have more press freedom here.
POM. You sure have.
AL. And we have more freedom of speech and we are promising to be more of a democracy here than anywhere else in the world, the little world that I've seen. What do you say about that? I mean Gandhi says -
POM. The libel laws in -
AL. In this country is a democracy, what do they know about democracy?
POM. Well the libel laws here, or in Britain are so strict that you dare not publish anything before because you consider the cost of the libel suit, so you just don't publish things. The other thing is the great secret is to learn to speak with what I call a BBC accent because having been in the business of imperialism for so long the British have perfected the act of having or knowing how to speak properly, so when you hear a BBC accent you can't believe that the person who is speaking to you in such perfect English is capable of telling a lie, the guy is lying down the throat to you.
AL. You know I'm tired, I'm almost sleeping. It's interesting what you are saying but I am so tired.
POM. This is my last question.
AL. It's been a long day, I'm really, really exhausted.
POM. This is my last, last question as you go to bed. One image of your father that jumps into your mind.
POM. One image of your father, if you had to think of your father in one situation doing one thing, one memory that stands out above all other memories, what is it?
AL. It's the image of a man who cared, humble and cared for whoever it was, high and low, poor or rich, just everybody was the same. A man who cared deeply. He cared more for other people than for himself.
POM. On that note I will let you go to bed. I will ring my office in Boston and say send the book on to a wonderful woman who had a wonderful father.
AL. Thank you very much. Bye bye.
POM. When I see Nomsa I will say you said hello.
AL. All right.
POM. I'll tell her to call you.
AL. Yes, do.
POM. Call your mother. God bless, goodbye.